The material choice for your thatched roof may well not be entirely yours. If your property is a Listed Building or in a Conservation Area, your local council may well have the final word in the materials that your thatcher is able to use.
There has been much debate on this subject in the thatching trade for many years now, as there are often other determining factors, in recent years there has been a great shortage of good quality Combed Wheat Reed, ( most councils preffered choice), part of this has been due to the exceptionally wet winters, where many growers have been unable to get on their land to sow their Wheat at the right time of the year. All good thatching Wheat straws have always been Winter sown crops, it is the overwintering of the crop that gives it its strength and makes the straw a harder product much longer lasting on the roof. A second factor in the straw supply is that in the recent past, Europe in their wisdom and with precious little consultation with the thatching trade, removed all of the old Wheat varieties from the seed list, stating that they were not viable crops, as their grain yield was so poor (often under a ton to the acre). It took three years of lobbying by thatchers and our County associations to our local MP’s to get some of these lost but vital varieties back on the seed list. This means that at least some seed will still be available, however sadly several of the old varieties have been lost for good. As if this was enough of a problem for the small band of farmers who do still grow thatching straw, it is now illegal for farmers to trade farm saved seed of any varieti that is not on the oficial seed list. This becomes a problem as if a farmer grows his own farm saved seed on his own land for many years it is much more suseptable to disease and can often revert back to a different strain from which it was first developed.
A new product of only the last 20 or so years is “Triticale” it is a Wheat – Rye hybrid, in many areas this has taken the place of the old traditional thatching wheat straws. Many farmers prefer it as it is readily available from most seed merchants and seems to grow better in any soil conditions, often producing a grain yield of more than double that of the old varieties. Most local councils seem to accept Triticale as an acceptable thatching material, but you should always take advice from you thatcher as there are now several Hybrids of Triticale and they are not all as hard and will not give a good life on your roof as you might hope for.