Hunt for straw begins in earnest

Following a reduction in the cereal area, struggling spring crops and an increase in the acreage of forage crops, it’s looking increasing likely that straw will be in short supply this year.

Reports suggest that this year’s straw yield will be back by up to 1.5 million bales. After a difficult spring, larders are already running low on farms across the country and carry-over bales are few and far between.

Substantial acreages of straw in the east and south-east have already been forward sold. Farmers in intensive dairy regions have been trawling such locations over recent weeks in an attempt to source straw before the harvest kicks into top gear; deals have been struck up to €20/bale – a far cry from the €7-10/bale achieved two years ago.

Some purchasers have been willing to pay 50% of the purchase cost before the crop is harvested; the remainder of the balance will be settled once the straw has been collected.

straw prices bales, tillage

Northern buyers and those supplying the west are also finding it a more difficult proposition to purchase straw in the counties of Wexford, Carlow and Laois. Tillage farmers in these regions are trying to strike the perfect balance to keep local customers and those travelling from further afield supplied.

Alternative options

With a scarcity of straw likely, farmers really need to be proactive when it comes to sourcing bedding materials. A number of alternative options – including: peat; mulch; miscanthus; and sawdust – are available. However, sourcing these materials will depend on the farm’s proximity to a bog, grower or sawmill.

Over recent years, a number of farmers have moved to using peat as a bedding option due to its significant absorption rate.

Angus calves on a peat-bedded floor

However, its use as a bedding material can be labour intensive, as it may have to be rotovated in the shed every couple of days to improve drainage. The peat must also be bone dry going into the shed. If it’s damp, it will compact much faster and anaerobic infections may arise.

Products such as bark mulch and sawdust all provide their own challenges for farmers using them as winter bedding.

With regards to bark mulch, farmers are faced with difficulties when disposing of it; it takes much longer to break down than traditional farmyard manure.

Sawdust, on the other hand, can be mixed with other dung and spread on the land in the same way as traditional farmyard manure.

Another option that was used successfully on farms last spring was miscanthus. With the loss of energy markets for this crop, growers have been trialing it as a bedding material.

miscanthus

Some merchants are now carrying the product as 8X4X3 bales. When used as a bedding material, it’s capable of absorbing moisture to provide dry underfoot conditions.