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Straw shortfalls throw a wrench in feed plans

There have been widespread reports of straw shortages, with producers pointing to drought stress on cereals, as well as harvest technologies that pulverize it

Straw is in high demand and short supply in Manitoba.

Producers looking to it as an alternative feed source are finding there is little to be had due to drought-shortened cereal crops, crop rotation shifts, and the proliferation of rotary combines.

Ray Bittner, provincial livestock specialist in the Interlake, said there is “almost no straw to start with,” due to soybean and canola acres in the region, and little straw is coming off what cereal acres there are.

“The straw is so low yielding that it’s not worth baling and there’s only a few fields with special situations where it actually is OK” but they’re still looking at half or less of straw than normal on the best fields,” he said.

Feed and straw will be hard to find this fall, Mike Duguid of Camp Morton said. Those who do purchase straw will be paying more for it and travelling farther to get it.

He has seen straw advertised for $20 a bale in the field, he said, not counting transportation.

“I produce most of my own straw and am lucky enough to have conventional combines, which means we don’t break the straw too bad,” he said. “Most of the new combines are rotors, and they just shred it. We asked a few grain farmers if we could get into their land and (they) said it’s kind of hopeless when the grain is, say, eight inches shorter (than normal). There’s not much straw in the middle between cutting it and harvesting. There’s spots where you won’t even see straw behind the combine.”

Crop producers may also be reluctant to give up what straw they have, according to Nancy Howatt of Manitou.

Howatt noted that grain farmers may prefer to chop straw and integrate in into fields coming off low-residue crops like soybeans.

Grain producers in her region already have a long list of livestock farmers in line to buy their oat straw, she said.

“Start asking neighbours and friends and people for straw and hopefully there’s a grain of understanding of the situation,” she said.

Straw and feed shortages were highlighted during an August advisory council meeting for Keystone Agricultural Producers. Bill Campbell, KAP president, urged grain farmers to keep straw in mind during harvest this year, although he also noted that the popularity of rotary combines reduces usable straw. As well glyphosate applications make the straw brittle, also chipping away at supply.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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