A Plan to Encourage More Farmers to Grow Thatching Straw

We love a good idea which benefits our thatch community.  So, not surprisingly, we were pleased to be contacted by the National Thatching Straw Growers Association (NTSGA) a few months ago, and asked to collaborate on an article for Old Glory Magazine, (a magazine for the vintage machinery enthusiasts).  This article is to be part of their clever plan to encourage more farmers to grow thatching straw.  What is this all about you may wonder?

Thatch Advice Centre - Threshing Machine

The Reason We Need More Farmers to Grow Thatching Straw

The recent thatching straw shortage has identified the big problem that the thatching industry has with straw supplies after a bad winter’s weather / dry summer.  The problem is exacerbated if all farmers are growers in the same area because bad weather then affects the whole year’s crop.

Having more pockets of thatching straw grown across the country could reduce these risks and potentially improve quality and quantity.

How to Get the Farmers on Board with This Plan

The Chairman of the NTSGA wanted to find a way to get farmers to think about growing the wheat for thatching straw in a positive light.  One of the drawbacks is that it needs to be especially cut with a binder and stooked in the field to ripen.  It is then collected and stored ready to be threshed out (separating the corn from the ears) and, if used for Combed Wheat – put through the comber.

Thatch Advice Centre - Cutting Thatching Straw with a Binder

The Plan

The plan was simple, to encourage the vintage farm machinery enthusiasts to persuade farmers to grow the correct long stemmed thatching straw varieties so that they – in the demonstrations of their wonderful machinery – can show it using the correct material that it was designed for.  Win/Win as the end product will have a value as thatching straw.  More farmers growing thatching straw has many benefits including:-

  • Reduces regional crop failure risks
  • Increases the number of people using the traditional varieties of wheat
  • Increases the knowledge base of farmers on how to produce thatching straw
  • Potential to show more people how the old machinery works
  • The value of thatching straw – its profitable

Growing Old Thatching Straw Varieties

Growing good specialist wheat varieties, harvesting the crop and producing it as thatching straw requires knowledge, skill and a bit of luck.  As thatching straw is no longer a bye product of the normal cereal production, the idea to get more farmers from more diverse locations to plant some of the old straw varieties was born.  However, it is a labour intensive process and needs to utilise specialist machinery.  So the article for Old Glory Magazine was created.

Thatch Advice Centre - Thatching straw field

The Article

We were so pleased to help with producing an article for the magazine in conjunction with NTSGA.  It was even more exciting when the editor explained that he wanted to roll the article out and include it in several more such magazines.  The first has been in South East Farmer, Farm Machinery Section, July – Tractor and Machinery, August – Tractor & Farming Heritage, September and we will update you with others when confirmed.

Other Articles on the Thatching Straw Situation

We were so pleased, it was noticed by the Farmers Weekly Magazine and they got in touch with us to do article on the situation too.  The more farmers who understand it is a viable crop, worth growing, the better.

Sadly, the more general press also produced articles with sensationalist headlines on the thatching straw shortage which, in our opinion, were not particularly helpful, often scaremongering.  Not sure what they were trying to achieve.  Why worry people about maintaining and conserving our thatched properties.  Some even spelt reed “read” which shows how much real interest they had in the topic!

Comments from our Associates on the Straw Situation

We have also received plenty of comments from our Associates some of which we can share with you below in “quotes”

“In the last 3 years, we have lost two very large suppliers of long straw, over 140 acres.  You also have the “old boys”, those who grow a few acres because they like using the equipment.  As they die out, a lot of the time, the next generation aren’t taking on the equipment and another supplier is lost.  While they may not produce huge amounts of straw, it makes a huge helping hand for the industry.”

“Long straw…… or will get changed illegally, again because of no material”   We at the Thatch Advice Centre know this situation is currently being abused by some homeowners and thatchers alike…. But that’s maybe another article.

Will This Encourage More Farmers to Grow Thatching Straw?

This is a good plan.  It involves those wonderful people and their specialist old machinery for cutting, binding, combing and threshing the wheat and the farmers to grow it in the first place.

It is better to act now than to wake up in a few years when the seed, knowledge to grow the seed, skills and machinery to harvest and produce the straw have all diminished.

Bad harvests happen, so we need to build more resilience by having more growers across the country.  We are proud to be helping on an actual plan and be trying to do something positive to help improve the situation.

At the time of writing we have already had several relevant and interested farmers who have been in touch.  This is an excellent start but more are needed.  It would be great to have a network of new farmers who are planning and planting this autumn, backed up with the vintage machinery specialists.  If anyone wants to just chat about potential then please get in touch.

Thatch Advice Centre - Straw shortage - wheat

Other Suggestions

There have been other suggestions to help improve the supply of thatching straw and we hope to be able to report back when these additional ideas come to fruition.

Not so many thatchers nowadays know how to produce the materials they use.  How to harvest the straw, thresh, comb or make a Longstraw yealm, but maybe they should?  Thatchers may need to show more interest and find a way to understand the situation and even get involved.  There is a need to secure future production to protect their craft and the properties they serve.   Pockets of the country have thatchers who do grow their own straw but the last couple of years have proven that it is not enough.  Sadly thatching straw production it is not a general knowledge or skill of farmers and thatchers any more, and Longstraw takes even more skill to produce.

Working Together To Get More Farmers to Grow Thatching Straw

If you have:

  • Any other ideas
  • Know a farmer who would like to start growing thatching straw
  • Are a farmer who would like to grow thatching straw
  • Are a machinery enthusiast who wants to get involved

Then please get in touch with us or, better still, the National Thatching Straw Growers Association.

Our mantra of #workingtogether is important to us and now is the time for farmers, vintage farm machinery enthusiasts and thatchers to do just that!

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