26 October 2001

Straw dear as stocks dry up

By James Garner

THE British Hay and Straw Merchants Association is warning livestock farmers to use bedding straw carefully this winter, or risk running out of it.

Judicial use, a mild dry autumn and winter, and an early spring might stave off a fodder and bedding crisis, reports the association, who urges farmers to use other materials where possible. It also encourages producers to chop straw when bedding up to make supplies go further.

In a press statement the HSMA said: "Very judicious use of bedding is the best advice the association can offer at this stage. It could be a long winter. Those farmers who have a good long-term relationship with their supplier could benefit, but it wont be cheap."

Prices are already 60% up on last years and with tightening supply they are likely to rise further. This week big bale wheat straw from the Eastern Counties is up by another £5 to £35/t ex-farm.

"Its a bit of a time bomb really," says HMSA secretary Chris Trower. "We dont want people to get in a panic, but there are still farmers who dont realise how short supplies are."

Straw drought

The talk of a straw drought will probably force prices even higher, a point not lost on Mr Trower. But he defends the HSMAs statement as "genuine".

"We dont want to force prices up. Farmers are having a tough enough time without adding to their problems. Prices are already unaffordable for some."

His advice for farmers is to use supplies sparingly and for those who cant afford anymore straw to call the ARC Addington Fund for help.

"Farmers should consider supplementing bedding with other materials where they can, such as woodchips, shredded paper, bracken, sea sand and chalk.

"Merchants believe they can supply about 70-80% of their regular customers needs. But a lot of demand is coming from those who would not normally be buying straw at this time of year," says Mr Trower.

"Due to foot-and-mouth, they have been forced to keep stock on farm, when usually they wouldnt." It is these extra customers that might struggle to find supplies as merchants try to meet the demands of their regular clients first.

The HSMAs statement reinforces this: "It is generally acknowledged that merchants have not been able to quote or supply any new customers during, or since harvest."

Straw supplies are down by 35-50% this year and demand is up too, says the association.

"The trouble is its a fait accompli. We cant put anymore on the market for another eight months. We could import straw from abroad, but that would be very expensive," adds Mr Trower.

Complicating the shortage is the annual problem that the biggest source of straw is the opposite side of the country to where it is needed.

"Our biggest securing areas are in the Eastern Counties and the biggest market for straw is in the south-west and Wales." Hauling straw is costly and adds considerably to ex-farm prices.

"A round-trip of 400 miles would cost about £500, for carting 18t of straw. This adds another £27/t to the cost for just transport and thats without any profit," he explains. &#42

STRAWSHORTAGE

&#8226 Prices going up.

&#8226 Try to use supplies sparingly.

&#8226 Use other materials too.