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NPA expresses concerns over straw shortages

22nd May 2018 / By Alistair Driver

The NPA has expressed concern about the impact of the current straw shortage on producers and highlighted the wider implications for UK pig production.

pig straw2Straw prices, as they have been for a number of months, are astronomically high, with supplies starting to run out in some areas. Weekly updates from the British Hay & Straw Merchants Association show wheat and barley straw prices averaging above £100/tonne in many regions, typically double the level of a year ago.

The impact of poor 2017 growing conditions and a wet autumn, which meant overall supplies were estimated to be down by a third, has been compounded in many areas by demand from straw-burning power plants.

In its latest weekly market report, Thames Valley Cambac, said demand for weaners, while still steady, was being curtailed in some cases by lack of realistically priced straw. “The demand for straw from straw burning power stations is putting a great strain on a finite resource,” it said.

The NPA is also aware that some finisher producers in the north can’t take in stock because they are unable to source straw.

Margins hit

StrawAt last week’s Pig and Poultry Fair, producers said escalating prices were beginning to hit margins. Simon Guise, Rattlerow’s sales manager and NPA East region Producer Group member, said, with ‘virtually no availability’, he was currently paying £150/t for straw on top of rising feed prices.

“We (Rattlerow) are OK in the east as we have our own supplies, but where I am having to buy straw, it is very difficult to get hold of and when I can, I am paying £150/t for it – which is almost the price of a tonne of wheat, which is crazy!”

“Even for next year we are going to see fixed prices for straw and it’s going to carry on being difficult,” he said.

His comments were echoed by other farmers at the event. One Suffolk farmer said the inflated prices could make the pig job unsustainable. He was paying between £90 and £95/t for ‘variable quality’ bedding for his breed to finish operation.

Others confirmed that supplies in the East of England were ‘drying up’ and those left were mostly substandard. Some large-scale East Anglian pig businesses are now sourcing straw from the Midlands, Cheshire and the west coast, with costs reported to be a £150 a tonne or more in some cases, which cannot be sustained.

Managers and stockmen are anxious about the impact this might have on pig health and their antibiotic reduction targets, going forward. Some, particularly in East Anglia where production is expanding predominantly in the outbred/straw-reared sector, said the situation has thrown an unexpected question mark over the general shift towards ‘high welfare’ straw-based systems.

You can read more on views from the Pig and Poultry Fair here

NPA view 

NPA chairman Richard Lister said producers in Yorkshire have been paying in excess of £100 for straw – and a lot more in some cases – for a few months now and there were no signs of the situation easing as supplies start to dry up.

“We had a difficult growing season and a wet autumn but the situation has been much worse by the demands of straw burning plants, which has created an artificial imbalance in the market.

“This is having an impact on margins, thankfully at a time when prices are holding up, and creating management problems for producers across the country who rely on straw within their production systems.

“It is also important to point out to those who want to drive the entire pig industry towards straw-based systems, including Defra Ministers, that there are not infinite supplies of straw available. Situations like this put pressure on straw-based systems, which is another reason why the NPA will always champion the current diversity of productions systems that exists within the UK pig sector.

“This diversity not only enables us to sell high quality, high welfare pork at all price points to consumers, but it means we are not putting all our eggs in one basket when it comes to key inputs for the different systems.”

APHA has provided some advice on alternatives to straw as bedding in light of the ongoing straw shortages.