Transport costs may be a problem but straw is versatile enough to remain in demand
Our abode sits alongside the busy, noisy N80. This traffic artery connects the southeast to points west, northwest and now, with the M9/M7 open, to the North as well.
I marvel at the endless loads of straw that travel this route and wonder about the destinations for such huge volumes of the stuff.
Is the straw going directly to another farm? Is it going to a mart? Often I've seen loads of straw parked in marts across the west on a sales day. Or is the straw going to the premises of one of the many straw traders that have sprung up across the country? Straw creates lots of activity.
But then again straw is a most versatile material. Apart from its use as bedding for livestock, it can be used as a livestock feed, as a fuel, as insulation, as a mushroom compost, as a soil nutrient, even as barriers or chairs at a function. I'm told that many a rural romance started, and maybe ended, in a straw stack.
The major drawback with straw is that it's such a bulky material. Storing straw under a roof is expensive. Moving it around is expensive. Straw which originates in Wexford, costing €12 to €14 per 4x4 round bale, will cost at least 50pc more by the time it arrives in Kerry or Mayo. And with the cost of diesel rising almost by the day, transporting straw will become an even bigger factor. I take my hat off the livestock farmers in the west and North who can afford to buy straw at such prices and still stay in business.
Of the straw passing my gate I notice that an increasing proportion of the loads are the large rectangular bales. The small square bales have become very scarce even though a few of them are awful handy to have around the place.
Round bales throw off some water in the field and are easily rolled out at bedding time, but they are not efficient users of space either on a lorry or in a store. Also, round bales stacked in a shed are a hazard. Fatalities, both human and bovine, have arisen from columns of round bales toppling over. Tragedies have also occurred from humans and animals getting stuck in the spaces between stacked round bales.
In Ireland, straw is primarily traded by the bale. So much is quoted for the 4x4 round bale, for a rectangular bale or the large quadrant bale. But how much straw is in a bale? How tightly is it packed? There is a temptation for sellers to go for more bales with less straw per bale. The answer here is to sell straw by weight rather by the bale.