Baling wheat straw following harvest is seen as a way of utilizing a bi-product, with the only cost being baling and removal from the field. The straw could then be sold as bedding for livestock, mulch, or other uses that provide value. However, the cost may be larger than you think.
The cost of fertilizer and increased focus on soil health makes it essential that we know what nutrients we are removing from the field when we take away the wheat straw. Research has shown that removing 6,000 pounds of wheat straw per acre removes valuable nutrients (6,000 pounds is the approximate amount of straw associated with an 80 bushel per acre wheat yield.) Removing this quantity of wheat straw removes 60 pounds of Nitrogen (N), 10 pounds of phosphorus (P2O5), and 135 pounds of Potash (K2O), per acre1. This is in addition to the nutrients removed when the wheat grain is harvested. Putting a monetary value to the pounds of N, P, and K taken away by baling the straw shows that the straw does have significant value. A price of $.86 per pound of nitrogen, $0.70 per pound of phosphorus, and $0.61 per pound of potash2 were used to reflect the approximate cost of the nutrients. The table below shows the value of the N, P, and K removed on a per acre basis when the wheat straw is removed. The value of the wheat straw needs to be greater than $125.47 per acre or $25.09 per 1200-pound round bale. Adding the cost of baling (1200 lbs. round bale) of $14.503 per bale and moving3 the bales out of the field at $4.35 per bale. The total of these costs is $43.94 per bale or $219.72 per acre. It should be noted that this is just the value of N, P, and K. There are some micronutrients as well as the organic matter that wasn’t considered in this analysis that have value if left in the field.
There are caveats. The amount of straw could be different depending on numerous factors, including limited yield, variety of wheat, the efficiency of the baler, and soil type. The value of N, P, and K will vary depending on your location as well. Check local resources in your area to estimate the value/cost of the removal of wheat straw.
Information for the values included in this article can be found in the following resources.