SCOTLAND enjoyed one of the driest, mildest winters and indeed springs, but farmers are certainly paying for it now, with continuous poor, wet weather since July not only affecting crops and livestock but also future feed and bedding supplies.
With virtually all areas of the UK hit by regular intervals of rain for the past couple of months, coupled with the ever increasing amount of ground set aside to provide rye and fodder for bio-digesters, sourcing straw of any sort is proving extremely difficult. Not surprisingly, straw prices have already hit an all time high for this time of year, and, are expected to rise further.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Philip Judge, who is having to import supplies from France, to meet demand.
“The yield was never going to be there in the first place as we had such a dry spring, which coupled with the wet summer and autumn and the amount of straw going into power plants, has just elevated problems. There is also more straw being chopped than ever before now too.
“Top quality barley straw for feed is already priced at £125 per tonne delivered and I envisage that going up to £150/t by Christmas,” he said, pointing out that straw shipped to Northern and Southern Ireland is valued at £145.
Mr Judge, who is based in Cheltenham, also believes that straw supplies are so scarce, that price will soon not be an option – sourcing any will become the biggest issue.
Wheat straw is also extremely scarce and valued at £115-£120 per tonne.
It’s not just cereal crops that have been hit though – the dry spring has also curtailed the amount of good quality hay available.
“We’re selling good quality, soft green sheep hay at £130-£140 per tonne which is up on the year but that’s because there is a lot less available.”
However, on a more positive note, Mr Judge is already looking to safeguard next year’s crop by forward buying supplies.
“I’ve got farmers growing cereals to bale straw that have never grown crops before, purely so we are never in this position again,” he said.
While the situation is grim south of the Border, the picture is worse in Scotland, with Perthshire-based Stanley Johnston claiming the ongoing wet weather is worse than that of 1985.
“It’s an absolute disaster,” he said. “There has been straw lying about for weeks and will end up as dung. I normally buy crop from anywhere in Scotland and there is virtually nothing out there. There are still large parts of Aberdeenshire and South Ayrshire still to be harvested. 
“I have never seen straw so scarce as a result of the weather and the growing amount of crop produced for bio-mass.
"I can see farmers having a real holiday this winter for two reasons – they won't have the money to buy calves to overwinter as the harvest has been so bad, and because they either don't have the straw or can't afford to buy bedding for them ,” said Mr Johnston.
While the weather has caused huge problems, Dundee-based seed and grain merchant, Alistair Hodnett, called on industry to lobby government to curtail or stop the amount of crop grown for bio-digesters, thereby releasing large acreages to grow cereals and straw.
“The industry is in a real mess,” he said. “Some farmers have been able to fill their straw sheds, but they’re not going to sell any until nearer the spring, until they know how much they need. I usually buy straw from throughout Scotland and south of the Border, but it is incredibly difficult to get anywhere now and have not loaded anything for the past fortnight.
“The problem started last year as so much crop was sold to feed the digesters, which coupled with the poor weather and the increasing amount of straw which is being chopped and ploughed into the ground, now has the potential to become a welfare issue if farmers are unable to bed their cattle.
“Everything has gone up in price as a result of the digesters. Some of the best arable ground in Scotland is now growing fodder beet and rye for the power stations, that even draff is up in price at £40 per tonne,” added Mr Hodnett who said that potatoes are the only possible cheap feed this year which should in plentiful supply. However they are not available yet !
As an alternative to paying high prices for bedding straw, Envirosystems, which produces dried paper cubicle bedding, has increased production to meet growing demand. 
With locations in Devon, Gloucestershire, Lancashire, County Durham and SW Scotland, such bedding is available anywhere in mainland GB at sensible transport cost, according to operations managers, Henry Russell.
“The materials in question are valued by users for absorbency and cow comfort,” he said. “At 95% dry matter, they create a very dry and comfy bed space for cows.
“Along with lack of moisture, the mildly alkaline pH is also alien to mastitis bugs and fly eggs. The materials are biodegradable and compatible with all slurry systems. Unlike fine sawdusts, they stay put on cubicle beds, while a lightweight and fluffy texture means a little goes a long way.”
At the recommended rate and fixed winter price, Mr Russell said that EnviroBed Premium, would cost less than 10p/cubicle/day including transport to any part of mainland GB.