Opinion: Wet Weather May Drive Straw Prices Up

July 20, 2020

Charlie Black: Agricultural Operations Manager

First an introduction: I come from an agricultural background, having lived on a working farm my entire life. My involvement with the agricultural industry spans several years and includes a great deal of practical experience working on and around working farms, and in the machinery sector. I joined NSF at the beginning of the year, where I started out on the Pigs & Poultry team as an Agriculture Coordinator; more recently, I have moved over to the Crops team where I’m now one of the Agricultural Operations Managers.

Given the wet year we have had so far, (I seem to remember it started raining in late September 2019 and didn’t stop until March of this year), it is unsurprising that many crops are currently well behind where they should be at this point in time. The late crop growth coupled with the fact that livestock, on average, spent a significantly longer time inside this year, may contribute to an increased straw price come harvest. However, in part due to the weather delaying winter drilling and in part because of the revocation of neonicotinoids, there is currently (and most certainly will also be at harvest), a national shortage of oil seed rape (OSR). Many farmers, who would have drilled fields earmarked for OSR, substituted their usual crop with spring barley, since it is an extremely durable crop that is more resistant to challenging weather conditions, such as excess damp or cold.

If the weather is kind to us over the next few months, with a good mixture of sun and rain, there is no reason why crops nationwide should do much worse than in comparable years. In fact, if the weather cooperates, there may well be a surplus of barley straw following harvest this year, which in turn, could well drive the price down.

Silage also stands to rise in price this year, as the recent dry weather has halted grass growth and has meant that many farmers haven’t been able to take more than one or two cuts this season. Constant livestock rotations are also not helping matters, as many farms are simply running out of available grass.

What do I think will happen? On balance, the price of straw will more than likely rise this harvest, by some accounts by as much as 20% due to the stated shortage of straw from winter crops. Given that many farmers were unable to start drilling until late February/early March, the variability of the crops this year will be much greater, and we therefore stand to be potentially hit by a short-term shortage of winter straw. In time, due to the excess amount of spring cropping around the country, the price of straw should come back down; however, this most certainly relies on good weather and a successful harvest coupled with good crop quality and strong yields.