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Yield data offers cattle producers new options

“ Now that we can show straw yield data, beef producers have an opportunity to maximize their opportunities for money and straw.”

While information on straw yield customarily is anecdotal, the Ontario Cereal Crop Committee has begun recording straw yields as part of the committee’s annual variety trials. The results give producers something to think about.

“Now that we can show straw-yield data, beef producers have an opportunity to maximize their opportunities for money and straw,” says Peter Johnson, a cereals specialist with Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. “Beef producers grow barley for feed and they like the quality of the straw because it is soft and absorbent. Beef producers have not been big on growing spring wheat because it doesn’t produce good straw, but now with the yield data available we find that grain yield has no correlation to straw yield and wheat actually yields higher straw volume.”

In the past, according to Johnson, judging straw yield was, at best, a shot in the dark. There are “huge differences” between grain yield and straw yield, he continues, which could make a difference to a producer’s bottom line if cash flow is needed.

“If straw is important to you, which it is for beef producers, you can tie together grain yield and straw yield by the choices you make,” Johnson adds. “For example, the barley variety, Yielder, offers 100 per cent grain yield but has 147 per cent straw yield. I wouldn’t recommend it as a grain variety, but it may have been named Yielder because of its straw output and not it’s grain yield. As a producer, I may choose to give up 10 per cent less grain yield to get 50 per cent more straw, which could be in the ballpark of $45 to me for the straw versus six bushels of barley at $25.”

A Simmental breeder in Ravenna, Ontario, agrees with Johnson’s logic but suggests many producers will opt to grow their own feed and straw rather than do the math and make choices that could put money in the bank. “In cash-crop areas, Peter’s theory makes sense,” says Joan McKinlay, “but many producers will always choose to grow their own feed, because there are trucking costs that have to be factored into the equation for delivering wheat to the elevator and bringing home feed.”

Traditionally, McKinlay says growers preferred two-row barley varieties because it was perceived the straw yield was higher due to more stems and the quality was better. She agrees there are times when growing your own straw and feed may not make sense. But, she predicts, many producers will not want to give up control of two important aspects of their operation in favour of growing wheat to make extra money and to have more straw on hand.

“Beef producers survive by locking in their costs, so growing your own straw and feed is comfortable for them,” McKinlay adds.

However, Johnson would like to see cattle producers thinking outside that comfort zone because with straw yield data available to prove that wheat nets more straw than barley and, generally, a higher rate of return on grain sales, growing wheat for straw makes economic sense. “The yield trials show us that barley yields the least amount of straw in terms of volume, but spring wheat yields 15 per cent more straw on average than spring barley and oat straw yields about five per cent more straw than spring wheat,” he explains. “The choice is do you need straw or feed or a profit because spring wheat often offers the profit potential and it has a higher straw volume than barley.” He suggests: grow wheat to sell, keep the straw and buy barley for feed in the fall when prices are low, particularly if you have storage available.

“We often budget for grain yield,” says McKinlay, “and we don’t put value on straw, but there are markets for it on the farm, in the horse industry, and in construction, so there is a market for extra straw.” Unstated is the fact that the construction industry will not be concerned about the quality of the product whereas the livestock industry prefers barley straw because it is softer and more absorbent. “It’s important to remember that producers make decisions based on the quality of straw they feel they need as well as quantity,” she adds.

“It boils down to each individual situation,” says Johnson. “There is more money in spring wheat, with a higher volume of straw available, and then you can buy your barley back, which is how I look at it, but it won’t always work depending on your situation.”

McKinlay encourages producers to do the math and check the yield-trial information. “If you only do your budget on grain yields, you are only seeing half the picture,” she says. “In order to switch from barley to spring wheat, it has to be better to sell the wheat and use wheat straw factoring in the costs of trucking over growing your own feed.” Cattle producers need to consider alternate uses and costs. As spring wheat varieties continue to be improved, wheat becomes a more attractive option.

Johnson encourages growers to study the straw and grain yield information available at www.gocereals.caand consider the option of growing wheat for profit and straw. With straw yield data available, cattle producers can make more informed decisions based on science and not on how tall the stand is in the field.

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