Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Strong demand for straw forces up harvest prices

June 29, 2018 by  
Filed under Crops

High prices are prompting a closer look at whether it is better to bale and sell straw off the farm this harvest – or chop and incorporate for nutrient value.

Straw prices have reached record levels with stocks for bedding running low on the back of a long, wet winter. Demand from straw-burning power stations and anaerobic digesters has also bumped up prices, with expectations that the market will remain firm for some time.

The pros and cons of baling and chopping straw were debated last month with host grower Simon Brock at the AHDB Monitor Farm meeting in Dereham, Norfolk. The group looked at two fields –  one in winter barley, going into oilseed rape; and one in winter wheat, going into sugar beet.

The field currently in winter barley at Dereham will be baled this summer to give a good entry for oilseed rape establishment, with the baled straw going as part of a muck-for-straw deal.

Avoiding slugs

Mr Brock said: “The reason I bale in front of oilseed rape is to clear the fields. We establish the rape with a flat lift and I don’t want trash because slugs can become a major issue. Also too much trash covers up the seeds too deeply and impedes germination.”

AHDB knowledge exchange manager Teresa Meadows said: “Muck for straw deals like the one Simon has with the on-site outdoor pig producer can be a good way of bringing mutual benefits to both arable and livestock farmers.”

The second field will have the winter wheat straw chopped to keep nutrients in the soil.  Mr Brock said he was not a big fan of baling. Straw prices would have to be well above £100/tonne to even make him consider baling and selling, he said.

Costs and benefits

“In a wet year, baling straw can really delay things because the soil gets wet and we cause more damage taking the straw off. It also removes valuable potash and organic matter, which I’d rather keep in the soil.

“Although the cost is hard to quantify, I don’t want to risk the delay and soil damage. I think the loss of potash and organic matter, together with yield losses from delayed drilling and soil damage, would cost us more than we’d get back in payment for the straw.”

For more resources about straw, visit cereals.ahdb.org.uk/straw

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