Straw in the wind could provide a boost for east coast arable farmers

Although it will be a week or two before the 2010 harvest gets under way, cereal growers have been asked to consider taking advantage of the current strong price for straw.

In recent years, there has been a tendency for more and more cereal producers to chop the straw as the combine goes through the crop rather than leave the straw for baling and then sale as bedding material for livestock farmers. This year, the message is consider the cash that you could get by selling straw or straw should no longer be considered a by-product of grain growing but a valuable commodity in its own right.

Bruce Hamilton, manager of the TayForthRing based in Kinross with members through east central Scotland, said yesterday that livestock producers in the west of the country were already in touch looking for straw.

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Last year TayForth handled more than 2,000 tonnes of straw with the vast majority of that tonnage going through to the west coast or to the islands.

He was reluctant to quote prices but said sellers could expect "significantly more than last year at harvest time. The trade is quite buoyant".

With the long severe winter stretching right through into April, there has been no carryover of straw. At the same time, with there being more profitability in the livestock sector, producers have cash and they are looking to buy, he said.

The high density balers that are operating today can provide full payloads for the hauliers but the transportation costs can still add considerably to the cost of the operation.

This point was picked up by Graham Bruce, managing director of Ringlink, the UK's largest ring with 2,000 members from the Moray Firth down to the Tay. "There is a green aspect to this issue. Last winter we saw loads of straw coming up from England but if we can source more locally that would be better."

His opinion was that there would be better prices than last year but he pointed out that buyers would not be prepared to pay silly money for fodder.

One problem could be that with the dry season so far, straw length is poor and the number of bales per acre is bound to be low. The position south of the Border is more acute with estimates of prices rising by up to 40 per cent on last year's levels. To help deal with the situation the NFU of England and Wales has set up a "fodder bank" to help farmers facing shortages to access supplies.

NFU director of policy, Martin Haworth, said the move had been triggered by the driest first half of the year in the past eight decades.

"We hope members use this free service to help offload surplus requirements which other are so desperate for during this dry spell."

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