Should I Sell Cereal Straw?

21 July '14

Summer wheat harvest is on many farmers' agendas, so Patrick Lynch, Certified Crop Advisor, answers an important question:
'should I sell straw or spread it?'

Below, Pat breaks it down to a simple conclusion, along with some advice for optimal nutrient management and land lease best practices. 
Should I sell cereal straw? 
Straw added back to the soil can add 1 tonne per acre of organic matter. That is a lot of organic matter, but in reality, in terms of an acre, it is not much. A good soil with 4% organic matter has 40 tonnes of organic matter. Adding 1 more tonne is not a lot. Furthermore, straw organic matter will break down quickly so that in 2-3 years there will only be 2-3 hundred pounds of organic matter from the straw. 
Also, you cannot remove all of the plant material when you remove straw. The roots and chaff and stubble account for more than what you remove. Typically wheat produces 100 pounds of residue per bushel of grain. Thus an 80 bu/ac crop produces 4 Tonnes per acre. If you can sell 1 tonne per acre of this residue, there is still a lot left to build organic matter.
Straw removes nutrients, but not a lot. There are about 1.25 cents per pound worth of nutrients in straw. If this straw can be sold for 3 to 5 cents per pound or more, there is a profit in selling straw.
For a sound management program that is fair to the landlord and renter, fertilizer should be added to replace the nutrients removed in straw. If you seed a cover crop of oats, this crop will add significant organic matter as well as work the soil. Cover crops also reduce erosion and prevent weeds from setting seeds.
The bottom line is that straw should be sold. After all, wheat is a cash crop. When sold, straw will be recycled somewhere on another farm. But - once straw is sold the nutrients should be replaced.

Did you catch Pat's other tips on our blog?

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