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Pig Industry Group meeting highlights rising straw prices as growing concern

24th Jun 2020 / By Alistair Driver

Rising straw prices are once again becoming a concern across the pig industry due to the impact of the unfavourable weather that has hit the 2020 growing season.

StrawPrices are already rising across the country and, following the wet autumn, winter and spring, supplies of winter wheat and barley straw are expected to be tight, with a mixed picture reported of spring crops.

The British Hay & Straw Merchants Association is currently quoting average wheat straw prices at £75/tonne and barley straw at £83/t in the South West, with wheat straw prices elsewhere typically in the £50-55 range and barley straw between £50-£60/t. While not significantly above annual averages for the time of year, the expectation is that prices will continue rising.

At the latest online NPA Pig Industry Group (PIG) meeting, representatives from all five regions highlighted straw price and availability as a concern for producers. 

NPA vice chairman Rob Mutimer said straw is ‘desperately short’ in the eastern region, while Rattlerow’s Robin Lawson added that straw prices are ‘already creeping up’. “I was quoted £65/tonne on straw delivered next month – it is getting higher and higher,” he said.

Devon producer Andrew Freemantle joked he would ‘bite someone’s hand off’ for £65/tonne in the South West, adding that producers there have been facing high prices for some time.

The concerns were echoed by North and South Central representatives, while Midlands representative Sam Godfrey predicted that straw yields will be down in the region this harvest. “We are not expecting a big yield, although it might be that more acres will get baled,” he said.

Arable farmers describe the overall picture as ‘variable’, with high quality straw likely to be in high demand. “We have quite a lot of straw despite some indifferent crops, but others are really struggling,” one said.

NPA senior policy Ed Barker, who lives in the east of the country, said crops are very variable, with some growers happier than others. "However, I think for many the recent rain came too late and missed that growth stage. Early yield results will be interesting though. I think everyone is expecting below average yields," he said. 

A prolonged period of straw shortages and high prices in 2018 affected pig producers across the country and also generated debate about the use of straw for energy production.

Also discussed in PIG

PIG meeting

The June PIG meeting too place online. Above is just a selection of around 35 people who took part in a constructive meeting

During the two-and-a-half-hour online meeting, chaired by AIG chair Hugh Crabtree, producer and allied industry representatives discussed a range of topics:

  • Chief executive Zoe Davies provided an up on COVID-19, including the potential implications for pork exports of the resurgence of cases in China. The group praised the NPA’s response to the crisis, particularly the weekly communications with Defra, feeding in industry concerns.
  • Senior policy adviser Rebecca Veale sought producer’s views on new post-2020 pig industry antibiotic targets currently under discussion and due to be announced later this year. The group discussed how persistently high users could be encouraged to cut usage.
  • Senior policy advisor Ed Barker provided an update on the latest Brexit developments, including the increasingly prominent debate over import standards, which the NPA is helping to shape.
  • Policy services officer Lizzie Wilson gave an update on the animal rights activism targeting the industry. The group discussed the NPA Tidy Units poster, which is currently being updated.
  • There was a presentation from Stewart Houston on the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway, including the nature and timing of funding that might be available for health and welfare initiatives under the new domestic agriculture policy.
  • There was a fascinating presentation from Verity Richards, from the NFU’s Brussels-based BAB office, on moves by the European Commission to introduce ‘sustainable food systems’ across the EU. This involves targets being set in a range of areas, including growing organic farming, updating animal welfare legislation, reducing pesticide and fertiliser use, controls on antibiotic usage and labelling requirements. If the UK seeks to align itself with the EU in future trading arrangements, this could have implications for UK farm policy, she said.

Sustainable targets

  • This was followed by an update from Efeca consultant Rose McCulloch on the UK Roundtable on Sustainable Soya, which the NPA is a part of, and its work to secure sustainable soya sources for the UK supply chain.