Increased demand for straw, coupled with a shortage of the product as a result of last year’s washout harvest, has resulted in the spot price of straw rising by around £50 a tonne, claims a new report.
The straw and forage study was conducted by SRUC on behalf of the Scottish Government’s agricultural weather advisory panel.
It found that spot market straw prices were up around £50 a tonne and current prices were around £130 a tonne delivered in the central belt, with more remote areas in the west and north paying another £15-20 a tonne and the islands more again.
The report also estimated that an example 110-cow upland suckler herd may have incurred additional costs of around £8,000 this winter due to higher straw use, from the extended housing period, and higher straw prices. This, claimed the report, caused a potential reduction of 19% in beef enterprise gross margin.
The report also warned that for every week that livestock turnout to grass is delayed, the demand for straw could increase by 36,000 tonnes at a cost of around £5million.
It also set out a range of strategies for farmers to reduce straw use and minimise the risk of future higher costs.
These included: increased use of slatted housing, housing modifications or greater outwintering of stock aided by shelterbelt establishment; increased growth rates to reduce the required length of housing period; increased use of alternatives to cereal straw such as sand and woodchip; and more long-term arrangements between livestock and arable farmers including ‘straw for muck’ deals.
Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said the report had been commissioned to help the advisory panel understand what went wrong, as well as advise on how best the agricultural sector can respond to similar situations in the future.
Speaking prior to a meeting of the panel, he said the group would consider the report as well as discussing the forward weather outlook and its potential implications.
NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick, who sits on the weather panel, said: “This report from SRUC is a significant part of the puzzle in terms of how we look to adapt to poor weather and will certainly be something we will look to in the future to advise members.
“Unfortunately, it is very little solace currently to members right now, who are battling through tough conditions and are having to spend more and more money just to keep livestock live and well.”