To bale or not to bale: weighing the options when it comes to baling straw

Due to last year’s extreme drought across many areas, straw was at a premium which may have tipped the scales in favour of baling for some producers. This year, much of the Prairies are in a different situation and farmers may be hurting themselves in the long run if they choose to bale off straw again this year.

Jeremy Boychyn, agronomy research extension specialist with the Alberta Wheat and Barley Commissions, says producers need to take a hard look at the nutrients in straw. Coupled with the recent price of fertilizer, the nutrient value alone could be enough to push the decision in one direction or the other.

“Understanding the value is going to be important, and making sure that, if you are selling it off, how much is that worth? And actually how much nutrients I’m pulling out of my soil? Am I replacing that? Am I accounting for it in my fertilizer plan? Because over four years, if you’re removing that level of nutrients, it’s going to add up, and it’s going to account in your fertilizer plan, and you need to think about that,” says Boychyn.

Outside of fertilizer cost, he says the other factor to consider is the amount of readily available organic matter in the field. If you farm high organic matter soils where rain is plentiful, baling could make perfect sense, says Boychyn. In these areas, straw that isn’t baled could pose a challenge come the next seeding season, and if the grower isn’t concerned about losing those nutrients from baling the straw, it could be a good option in the short and long term.

Alternatively, if organic matter is a stress-point, from an agronomic standpoint it’s wise to leave the straw on the field.

“If you’re in a lower organic matter area, and you’re seeing less rainfall, that organic matter, that straw, has more value to that soil health, and building that soil health that we talked about when we’re talking about just specific nutrient value and cost. So there is that balance we need to have,” says Boychyn.

When weighing the options of baling, producers should be asking themselves a couple key questions to make the right decision for the farm including, what is the actual value of baling to the farm, how will affect seeding next year, and also how will it affect the short and long term health of the soil.

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