‘Bonkers’ straw trade nearly as dear as grain

Heads have been turned by eye-watering straw costs in some areas, with traders reporting that “bonkers” prices are now approaching grain values, encouraging some farmers to use hay as bedding.

Prices well in advance of £100/t ex-farm have been quoted, with traders predicting supplies will remain tight as more arable acreage goes into Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) schemes.

Supply has been limited by a dramatic increase in the amount of straw that was chopped in the catchy 2023 harvest. Meanwhile, demand has remained firm, owing to the same weather-related reasons livestock have been forced inside early, and increasing the need for bedding all winter.

See also: Straw values up £20/t with strong sales at auction

Adrian Cannon, who runs Tayler and Fletcher’s hay and straw sales at Stow-on-the-Wold, said barley straw had averaged £120/t at the last sale.

“We have a sale this Friday [9 February] and I only have four lots sorted out of a potential of 100,” he told Farmers Weekly. He suggested farmers should sell straw now, anticipating future resistance to higher prices.

Andrew Templeton, dairy, crop and forage auctioneer with Harrison and Hetherington, said bales of barley and wheat straw were £10 dearer on the year at Borderway’s regular sales, while Yorkshire-based trader Brian Peacock said the demand from Ireland was exacerbating a tight supply in the eastern region.

“One trader in Lincolnshire was seeing two or three loads on curtain siders go to Ireland every day, although this trade has slowed dramatically” he told Farmers Weekly.

He said big-bale barley straw was trading at roughly £80-£100/t ex-farm in North Yorkshire. Best-quality straw delivered to farm was hitting the £125/t mark.

“It’s very area dependent, as is always the case. Stock farmers have ways of adapting and making less go further. Given the amount of arable acreage that has failed and the SFI money available, the likelihood of a small harvest and tight straw supplies next year is high.”

Market factors

  • Down Livestock farmers can adapt with straw choppers or cubicles, which can reduce the amount needed, or they can use alternative materials
  • Firm Organic matter-hungry arable ground may increase the amount of straw that is chopped
  • Firm Traders have noted a rise in export activity to the Republic of Ireland, where farmers have been subsidised to chop straw since 2021. Farmers get paid £213/ha for cereal and £128/ha for oilseed rape up to 40ha