Shortage of straw fears for pig farmers

A shortage of straw from drought-stricken crops across eastern England will cause headaches for livestock farmers, the National Pig Association warned last night.

As arable farmers gathered for the industry event, Cereals 2011, the National Farmers' Union estimated that the national wheat harvest will be 15pc lower than the five-year average yield.

Barley crops grown for animal feed and for maltsters along the eastern seaboard have been hit hard by the drought and some Norfolk farmers are turning cereals into animal feed.

Arable farmers are being urged to bale all available straw this year, including from oilseed rape crops to assist livestock producers who face a serious shortage of bedding. It could also pose problems for vegetable growers, who traditionally use hundreds of tonnes of straw to protect over-wintered root crops like carrots and parsnips.

'There is going to be significant straw deficit in the eastern half of England and we need all arable farmers to go the extra mile to help keep their pig farmer customers in business,' said Howard Revell, chairman of the NPA's producer group.

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He said that pig farmers, who use more than 350,000 tonnes of straw, were already paying record prices for straw because they might not be enough to last the winter.

The NFU's prediction for the wheat harvest, which was announced yesterday at Cereals 2011, suggested a 14pc reduction of two million tonnes to 12m tonnes. Although the area in England planted was about the same as last year, the driest spring for a century has hit crops.

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Last year, the total wheat harvest was 13.7m tonnes and an average yield of 7.82 tonnes per hectare or 3.1 tonnes an acre. The NFU's latest survey of farmers in eastern southern and central England suggests a yield of 6.5 tonnes per ha – one of the lowest figures for 20 years.

The NFU also estimated that yields of oilseed rape could be about 9pc less than the five-year average.

Many farmers in the east irrigated cereal crops in the spring against a backdrop of sharply increased cereal prices.

A tonne of feed wheat, for delivery in November, will be worth �185 against �94 per tonne last year. This northern European drought will further increase pressure on the prices of bread and food generally because of supply shortages will increase costs across every sector.

Last Friday, the government declared an official state of drought in parts of eastern England and some irrigation restrictions have already been imposed on about 100 farmers. Another 200 in Suffolk could be hit later this month.

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