What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago, the baling of straw was a tricky operation between showers or longer periods of rain. This year, so far, the same operation has gone nonstop and the big problem, according to one straw merchant, has been getting the optimum weight for transportation.
With most of his customers in the west of Scotland and transport costs an important factor, Alistair Hodnett, of Balmydown, Dundee, said the straw was so dry this year it was difficult to get enough weight on the lorries.
“Last year, moisture levels were about 18 per cent. This year we are handling straw down at 8 per cent,” he said. “The customers are getting a bargain with much better quality straw but it is so dry we are struggling with the weights.”
Yields of straw per acre have been mixed, he added, with some very good yields from farms with grass in their rotations while farms on light land had ended up with less bales per acre than normal.
Hodnett said that, despite a value of between £30 and £40 per acre for straw in the swathe, rising to £50 per acre for baled straw, there seemed to be more farmers in Angus foregoing this potential addition to their income by using straw choppers on their combines. “I think the level of chopping going on is up this year which I find surprising. I thought, with the good weather, people would have more patience. Also with grain prices being back, farmers might have welcomed a bit more cash from the straw crop.”
Hodnett said the demand for straw was being constrained by livestock farmers being short of cash. While he was not worried about not being paid as he knew his customers he did feel that like other merchants, he was currently being used as an “interest free” bank.
Meanwhile, in Kinross-shire, Bruce Hamilton, manager of the Tayforth Machinery Ring, was upbeat: “So far we have moved the equivalent of 50 lorry loads of straw.
“We set a price of £45 per tonne in the bout and £15 per tonne for baling at the beginning of the season and it seems to be on the mark.”