Straw shortages are yet another headache for farmers this year… but could limited straw supplies become the new normal?
Along with many other difficulties that 2020 has thrown at us, the lack of available straw bedding this winter is another one to add to the list.
Here in the Southwest, straw is already in short supply – and it is expensive. Buying from up-country is costing around £130 to £140/tonne – with at least one report of £150/tonne. Locally, if you can find it, it’s around £105 to £115/tonne, representing a big increase on previous years—and the quality isn’t always that great either.
One reliable contact who usually always has straw for sale told us he had sold 100 loads in the last six weeks and has none left.
But high prices are a moot point if you can’t even find supply. One reliable contact who usually always has straw for sale told us he had sold 100 loads in the last six weeks and has none left.
We’re seeing alternative materials like pea and bean haulm and oilseed rape straw coming into play this season, where they are available. But most people use these materials as a way to reduce straw needs (a base for bedding with fresh straw on top), rather than as a complete straw replacement.
A future trend?
Although the shortage of straw this year is largely down to the appalling weather conditions in autumn 2019—and the subsequent reduction in winter cereal crops harvested in 2020—SWFC’s Anthony Ellis thinks that we may well see increasing straw shortages in the future, albeit for different reasons:
“As arable growers start to look at reducing machinery passes across fields, as well as the cost and bother of baling straw against the increase in soil organic matter and saving on buying in potash by from incorporating it instead, I wonder if we will see a gradual reduction in straw availability?”
Anthony’s thoughts may be prescient when we look at other developments. The Irish Minister for Agriculture recently announced a new agri-environment measure that would pay tillage farmers to chop straw on their farms to increase soil organic matter and provide an improvement in soil structure and soil biology. We wonder whether Defra might take note for ELMS…
But Anthony’s final thoughts just might be the win-win everyone needs: “If more livestock farmers can start to engage in dung-for-straw arrangements, then arable farmers will get their organic matter and natural fertiliser and the stock get a decent bed for the winter. Everyone is happy.”