Whether to chop or bale? Dereham monitor farm debates the pros and cons

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Straw prices in the UK remain sky high, as stocks run low thanks to the long, wet winter – but do the high prices mean more farmers in Norfolk will be baling and removing straw this year?

Farmers at AHDB’s Monitor Farm meeting in Dereham this week debated the pros and cons of baling and chopping straw with host Simon Brock.

The group looked at two of Simon’s fields, one that was in winter barley going into oilseed rape and one in winter wheat, going into sugar beet.

The field in winter barley will be baled to give a good lead in to oilseed rape establishment, with the baled straw going as part of a muck-for-straw deal.

Simon said: “The reason I bale in front of oilseed rape is to clear the fields. We establish the rape with a flat lift and I don’t want trash because slugs can become a major issue. Also too much trash covers up the seeds too deeply and impedes germination.”

Teresa Meadows, AHDB Knowledge Exchange Manager, said: “Muck for straw deals like Simon has with the on-site outdoor pig producer can be a good way of bringing mutual benefits to both arable and livestock farmers.”

AHDB’s recent Livestock and the Arable Rotation Guide sets out guidelines for arranging muck for straw deals.  https://cereals.ahdb.org.uk/livestock

The second field will have the winter wheat straw chopped to keep nutrients in the soil. Simon confesses that he’s not a big fan of baling.

“In a wet year,” he said, “baling straw can really delay things because the soil gets wet and we cause more damage taking the straw off. It also removes valuable potash and organic matter, which I’d rather keep in the soil.”

For Simon, straw prices would have to be well above £100/tonne to even make him consider baling and selling.

“Although the cost is hard to quantify, I don’t want to risk the delay and soil damage. I think the loss of potash and organic matter, together with yield losses from delayed drilling and soil damage, would cost us more than we’d get back in payment for the straw.”

AHDB has a guideline leaflet for calculating the nutrient content of straw, which includes a summary of the advantages and disadvantages of chopping and baling straw

https://cereals.ahdb.org.uk/media/183781/is05_nutrient_content_in_cereal_straw.pdf

For more information on the Monitor Farm programme visit cereals.ahdb.org.uk/dereham

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