Sky-high straw prices hit European livestock and dairy farmers
Hamburg/London — Livestock and dairy farmers across northern Europe are paying soaring prices for straw used in food and bedding for cattle, as hot, dry weather across the region reduces crops.
The higher bills put further pressure on farmers already facing one of their toughest summers yet; many have had to buy more hay for fodder because the grass on which their herds normally graze has not grown. Some predict thousands of pounds in extra costs even for small herds, leading to an overall loss for the year.
"If you look at the price of fodder and straw I would be fairly confident that this year we will lose money [on cattle]," said David Barton, who farms in the normally lush Cotswolds in central England.
Wheat straw that would usually cost £35 a ton is nearly £100 a ton. Barton will have to pay about £80 a day to feed his 173 cattle as there is no grass left.
Barton estimates extra spending of about £7,000 over three months. The largest cost, however, will be the loss of meat production as his cattle will not put on as much weight.
"They have sufficient food but for them to really grow [as much as in a normal year] they need grass, and currently we don’t have any. The loss of production will be significant," Barton said.
Part of bigger problem
The straw shortages are part of a broader problem of reduced grain crops across Europe and other key producing regions, amid high temperatures and low rainfall. In Germany, straw crops have wilted under a combination of drought and the highest July temperatures since 1881, with shorter stalks reducing straw crop yields 20%-40% in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein. "We are lacking an enormous amount of straw, both for feed and bedding," said Peter Levsen Johannsen, CEO of the chamber of agriculture in Schleswig-Holstein.
"There are regions in which straw is already more expensive than grain," he added.
Analysts said rising input costs could lead to higher store prices. However, retailers are more willing to raise prices for some products than others.
John Lancaster, head of EU dairy consulting at INTL FCStone, said retailers liked to keep liquid milk prices stable but may raise them for butter or cheese.