A transport subsidy on the importation of straw should be considered to combat the current serious supply shortage, according to the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA).

Straw is impossible to get across much of the west and northwest, the farm body has claimed.

The poor grain harvest and increased participation in the Organic Farming Scheme (OFS) are two of the factors contributing to the unprecedented shortage of straw this winter.

The Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue needed to deal with the immediate straw shortage, as well as devising a strategy to prevent the issue arising again, INHFA president Vincent Roddy told the Irish Farmers Journal.

“We need to figure out how we are going to get through the next three months when farmers are calving cows and lambing ewes,” Roddy said.

“And this may involve considering a transport subsidy,” he maintained.

Long-term strategy

The INHFA leader said a long-term strategy on straw supplies was also required.

“We need to think long-term, and ensure that we are not in this position again. This is vital for all farmers,” Roddy said.

“If we are going to encourage farmers down an organic route where there is an increased requirement for a bedded area, then we must ensure that farmers are in a position to source straw or other bedding,” the INHFA leader pointed out.

Low barley and wheat yields, the wet harvest and a significant decline in the winter cereal area resulted in local supplies of straw halving this year.

While close to 7m bales (4x4) of straw were produced in 2022, this figure could be as low as 3m bales in 2023.

Straw imports from Britain during October and November had helped to make-up the shortfall in local supplies. However, fears around the importation of blackgrass in the British straw has resulted in tighter controls being put on the trade.

Meanwhile, demand for straw is on the increase due to the increased number of farmers in the OFS.

The OFS specifications detail that the ideal livestock housing under organics is a loose house with a solid floor throughout. The floor must be bedded with straw or other permitted litter which in turn is used for land fertilisation.