Committee Chairman Blog - 7 August

It is obvious that the upturn in cereal and straw prices is a bonus to our businesses, writes Ian Sands, Chairman of NFU Scotland's Combinable Crops Committee.

However, I am critically aware that this is going to put more pressure on the livestock sector, especially the beef and dairy sectors, due to their heavy reliance on straw and other cereal based feeds.

On the straw front, the #NFUSHowDoYouPlan straw and feed campaign has had a positive impact in my area of Perthshire, where many more thousands of acres of straw have been committed by farmers who would normally chop this straw in as a matter of course, myself included.
We have committed over 500 acres that would have been chopped in to heavy clay land - we have been doing this for the past few years and are starting to see some good results.  It’s important for it to be understood that this is being done in normal years for a good reason as it feeds the soil, improves soil structure and aids early entry of the following years crop. This brings important yield increases which all add to the bottom line where margins are very tight anyway. 
At the time of writing, this years’ winter barley is all but cut with some decent yields of straw and grain but spring barley has not really been started. With the late sowing dates in the spring, due ironically to the wet weather and then the long dry spell throughout the summer, hopefully the yields of grain and straw will not be compromised.
Regarding straw, hopefully the increase in area committed to the balers will help fill the gap this year in the shortages of fodder but please, if you are going to need straw, make sure you have secured your supply though your usual merchant or whoever you usually purchase it from. A commitment to purchase straw will maybe determine whether it gets baled or not, especially if the weather becomes less settled in the coming weeks over harvest.  

Even if you can’t store it yourself maybe you could come to an arrangement that the straw is stored until you require it.  That way you know you have straw and the supplier knows he has a market so will commit to baling it - more joined up thinking to help all sectors in the long-term will see a more secure future for all.

I am well aware that a far bigger worry for many farmers is the shortage of feed stuffs and the fact that they are already dipping into valuable winter stocks due to the lack of grass and the failure of second cut silage to grow due to lack of rain. 

For many this is going to become a bigger problem as the winter months bite but once again it is better to look for ways to deal with this problem now than wait till the last minute.  Try and have a plan in place, speak to your feed merchants and animal nutritionists to see if there is some way of adding something to the diet that could save silage or let you use some more straw to bulk out silage. 
At the weather and fodder summit held by NFU Scotland last week, it was brought to our attention that you may not have nearly as much silage in your pit but it will probably be of a much better quality than last year and the dry matter will be substantially higher so therefore less could be fed and supplemented by straw and concentrates.  Again, please speak to your advisers sooner rather than later to see if this would be possible.  

With poor weather conditions last year meaning a lot of straw didn’t get baled, coupled with the difficult harvest, more straw was chopped with the pressure of getting winter crops into the ground for next season.  Add into the mix this year’s dry summer and we have a perfect storm this year.  No-one’s fault but let’s just hope that we do not get a wet harvest this year to add to the problem. 

To my thinking the fact that five per cent of the best producing land in Scotland is in Ecological Focus Areas and not producing anything is causing more of a problem than anything else and needs to be looked at going forward – this though is for another day. 

As a final thought, please take into consideration the following points:
• Try to plan ahead going into the winter.  
• Look for fodder options, speak to your merchants, don’t leave it until the last minute to find your requirements. 
• Be proactive and try to cover your requirement sooner rather than later and if you have straw or fodder make it available as it is required and will be a great help to those in need.

This is an exceptional year, please help if you can.  Communication is the key to this problem and a solution can be found. 
Here’s hoping for an easy harvest and we can bale as much straw as is required.  Remember, please be proactive not reactive.

Author: Ian K Sands

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