Straw shortages predicted as hit-and-miss harvest puts pressure on combines

Livestock farmers are likely to face straw shortages and rising prices for straw as a result of this year’s catchy harvest.

According to the British Hay and Straw Merchants Association wheat straw is £10/t more expensive than this time last year.

The reason? Aside from the increased costs of baling and haulage brought on by rocketing fuel prices, straw is simply in short supply.

“Farmers are more reluctant sell their straw because of the perceived loss of P & K,” says straw merchant Graham Lawman.

“But in addition to this, the wet weather has meant people are snatching bits of crop as and when they can. They know the straw isn’t dry enough for contractors to bale it and they’re keen to get on with cultivations so they’re chopping the straw.”

Mr Lawman sells a significant amount of his bales into Holland and Belgium where straw is also a sought-after commodity. Based in Cambridgeshire, the haulage costs for return loads to the Continent are lower than they would be to Cornwall.  

Bale stacker

Northants contractor Peter Burbage – who runs three big square balers – has only managed to bale a tenth of what he would have by this time usually.

“We’re well up against it because the straw just isn’t drying out. Unlike arable farmers with grain driers we can’t buy the sunshine so we just have to wait it out,” he says.

“What that means of course is that farmers can’t get onto the fields to cultivate them and start drilling the rape. Consequently more and more of them are chopping the straw from remaining standing crops even if it’s just to give their blokes some ground to work down.”

He explains that this can only result in bad news for straw users.

“Straw prices are going to hit £50-60/t which works out to about £20/bale – that’s very expensive bedding. Livestock farmers are going to have to look at alternatives like shredded paper waste.”

If you’re an arable grower do you sell your straw? Is it worthwhile? What are you being paid?

If you’re a livestock farmer what are you paying at present? Is it expensive enough to make you look to alternatives?

Let us know on the FWiSpace discussion forums.