MAKING hay might be easier when the sun shines, or so the old adage goes. But cutting enough straw, it turns out, can be a lot harder.

Scottish farmers were not long in to last year when they realised they had less straw, and that the stalks they did have were shorter than usual.

They had suffered a wet autumn in 2017, hitting their winter crops, before a big winter and spring freeze and a scorching, grass-drying summer.

The result? Their animals had less grass to eat in the summer and so needed more cut feed, such as straw. But the farmers had less straw. 2018 was, literally, the year Scottish farmers pulled a short straw.

Add to this increased demand for the product for power generation and animal bedding. The price of straw soared over the winter of 2017-2018, from about £55 a tonne to £90 or even £100.

The World Wildlife Fund this week published a detailed report in to additional costs facing farmers in 2018. They incited another report suggesting a hypothetical upland beef farm with a typical 110 cows faced extra costs of around £8,000 due to higher straw use. That is because the cows were inside longer and eating more and increasingly expensive straw.

The WWF Scotland report stressed Scottish farmers sometimes struggled to get straw from northern England, which was also hit by bad weather in autumn 2017. It reported some farmers getting straw “from as far as Kent”. It added: “These distant supplies incurred additional transport costs.”

Consumers care about the price in the shops of their beef, lamb or bread. Nobody outside farming thinks about straw, or tastier (for hungry animals) and greener hay.

But Scotland’s increasingly changing climate means policy-makers are going to have to start thinking about the yellow stuff. The National Farmers Union Scotland last summer responded with a long campaign to get members to think about where their straw and other feed was going to come from. Farmers, they said, should plan ahead and have a back up plan in case their usual supply proves insufficient. And they should consider pooling buying power with neighbours.

NFUS President Andrew McCornick said: “Unpredictable weather could become more prevalent and the union is looking to encourage farmers to think further ahead and to plan for these challenges.”