FARMERS with sufficient crop biomass look set to continue to cash in for the strong demand for straw by once again baling paddocks after grain harvest.
Last year many growers in southern Australia baled cereal crops, in particular those impacted by frost and have found good demand for straw.
Good quality barley straw has made up to $140 a tonne, with industry sources revealing widespread sales between $110-130/t.
Even wheat straw, which does not attract the same demand from the livestock sector as barley straw, as it is coarser and less palatable is selling in excess of $100/t.
Usually the straw market is centred upon non-feed applications, such as horse bedding and for use as part of the compost used for mushroom farming, but the dry spell in northern Australia has meant it is being used as part of the feed ration in conjunction with high protein feed sources.
The southern dairy industry, which has traditionally used some straw as important roughage over the winter months when fodder supplies dry up, is also using straw, with a mix between canola hay, which represents about the only major source of unsold hay in Australia in significant volumes at present, and straw popular.
The quality of the straw in terms of feed tests varies immensely.
One source from within the straw industry said some straw from barley crops impacted by frost had tested extremely well, with metabolisable energy (mE) of 6 and crude protein of 6 per cent.
This is comparable to lower grade cereal hay, rather than straw.
However, Colin Peace, fodder industry specialist and director of Jumbuk Ag, said other straw products were nowhere near this quality.
"There was not much straw made in New South Wales last year, but there was some coming out of places like the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area (MIA), and irrigated crops obviously have a lot less nutrition in the straw," Mr Peace said.
In terms of demand, Mr Peace said the winter period was always busy for straw, but said he could see good opportunities for straw into the medium term.
"Given the shortages of grain and hay I think people will again look to use straw in some role.
"In the north the lot feeders are experts at blending together a suitable feed ration that can include a straw component."
However, he said not all straw would have to be trucked up from Victoria.
"There is straw moving up, and it is a long way for a lower value feed stock to go by road, but there is also some availability of summer crop straw.
"Where possible northern farmers have baled the stubbles of their sorghum and it is finding a home."
Mr Peace said lot feeders were more comfortable with their position this year than last year in terms of sourcing feed, even allowing for the record low supplies of fodder.
"They've basically walked through the valley of the shadow of death last year so this year they know it can be done.
"The season, from a grain point of view, looks better this year than last year in the south, so they will be confident of sourcing enough feed, but within that, for the ration they probably want a fodder component and straw could fill that role to an extent."
He said the rising milk prices could inspire further confidence from the southern dairy sector, but added that the dairy sector would look to make as much fodder itself rather than buy in supplies.
In terms of croppers' willingness to bale straw he said it would depend upon soil cover.
"Obviously in a no-till system, crop residue is valued, but equally the returns generated by straw are very attractive and could more than pay for any nutrients taken out."
As a rough rule of thumb, cereal straw yields will be in line or slightly less tha grain yields, so a 3 tonne to the hectare barley crop will yield 3t/ha of straw or a litlte less, although if the crop has been frosted the straw yield dips well below that of the grain.
Other factors determining whether farmers will bale straw include the labour component, with a requirement to bale quickly after harvest making it difficult logistically at a busy time of year and the ability to market the product without suitable contacts.
Many farmers have sold the stubble standing to straw balers who then make the straw and market it through existing networks as a means to cut out on logistics and marketing issues.