People unfamiliar with our industry are often confused by the words “straw” and “hay” and mistakenly think the terms are interchangeable. They’re not!
Both straw and hay can be called “forage” but there’s an important distinction between the two.
Straw is a by-product of seed (or grain) production. For example, a farmer who grows wheat will harvest the grain; the dry plant that remains after harvest is straw. The same applies to grass seed farmers in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, which is a major source of turf seed used on lawns and sports fields around the world.
Hay is grown specifically, and it’s cut before the plant goes to seed. Because the plant pumps nutrients into the seed or grain, hay will have more nutrients than straw. Although dairy farmers and cattle ranches typically buy on the basis of protein, everyone recognizes the value of fiber, of which hay and straw provide a lot.
Examples of exported straw include fescue and ryegrass, and exported hays include alfalfa and timothy. Some forages, like sudangrass, are available in both hay and straw.