20 February 1998

Brian Hammonmd

Brian Hammond is farm

manager for Carnreagh

Farms at the 182ha (450-

acre) Ballyalloly Farm,

Comber, Co Down where he

grows 50ha (125 acres) of

potatoes as well as cereals

and oilseed rape

STRONG demand for straw from local livestock farmers since Christmas is a far cry from September; you could hardly give it away then.

It never ceases to amaze me that when straw prices are at rock bottom, nobody wants any. When the price goes through the roof, customers almost come to blows over the last bale.

The demand for bedding straw has been fuelled by several factors. First is the wet weather since mid-November. Second is the need to keep stock clean to meet new abattoir standards.

Third, and perhaps most significantly, there seems to be a big swing away from cubicles and slats to straw bedded loose housing. I know of several dairy herds now loose housed, something that would have been unheard of 10 years ago.

By contrast, wheat straw for mushroom compost has not seen a single load leave the farm yet -despite promises that most would be taken up before Christmas.

But this may soon rectify itself. The word is that straw will be in short supply before the end of the season and composters are already trying to book new season straw.

But demand is one thing and price another. Last harvest quality barley straw earned about £100/ha (£40/acre) in small pick-up bales. We sold those at 35p each. Deduct baling and handling expenses (not to mention the hassle) and you are left with a margin of £50/ha (£20/acre).

That is roughly equivalent to the value of burning straw. And at least that puts something back into the soil and greatly reduces compaction.

Harvest would be so simple without straw to worry about. But in the present economic climate it is necessary to squeeze every penny out of cereal crops.

One other change to the straw business is the swing to big square bales. Some of our livestock customers find them convenient and mushroom composters will move to them almost exclusively next season. &#42

Whats in store for straw? Brian Hammond was pleased with his crops when pictured last autumn, but is mystified by the vagaries of the straw market as he tries to squeeze everything he can from his cereal cropping.