Demand for hay and straw is variable so far this season, with buyers holding off as cashflow issues bite.
Auctioneers report a hit and miss trade with some lots failing to attract buyers and sales seeing a wide range in prices.
At the first big national sale of the season, run by Tayler & Fletcher at Stow-on-the Wold in Gloucestershire, there was strong demand for quality barley straw with all of it selling, but only 30% of the big bale wheat on offer was sold.
See also: Hay and straw prices (PDF)
Rural partner Adrian Cannon said bright, heavy barley bales with colour saw the strongest interest and overall the winter barley straw averaged £50/t ex-farm, with Claas 3300 bales selling for £23/bale, Quadrants for £15/bale and conventional bales going for a top price of £1.50/bale.
Prices were up on the previous year – for example, one farm selling barley straw had received £23/bale this year compared with £16.50/bale in 2014, he said.
When it came to wheat, there was stronger demand for conventional bales, which sold to an average of £1.87/bale with a 70% clearance rate.
However, big bale wheat straw was harder to sell and showed much greater variability with some selling for £21/t while the top price paid was £42/t.
Mr Cannon said there appeared to be large availability of wheat straw from the east side of the country which meant they were seeing no uplift in the market for wheat.
But he added: “I don’t see there is going to be a reduction in barley this year, I think it is scarcer than people realise. There could be restricted supplies later in the season, particularly of good quality barley.”
‘Very steady’ demand
Jeremy Eaton, market manager at Skipton Mart in North Yorkshire, said demand at their weekly Monday sale had been “very steady” through November, with buyers taking advantage of the open weather earlier in the month.
“It seems to be very quiet on all counts. I don’t think anyone is going to be falling over themselves to buy large quantities to get in front.
“I can sell small loads of both hay and straw, but anything over six or seven tonnes has been overfacing the few customers out there at the moment.”
“It seems to be very quiet on all counts. I don’t think anyone is going to be falling over themselves to buy large quantities to get in front”
Jeremy Eaton, Skipton Mart
His most recent sale of wheat straw went for £14/bale for Quadrants, while barley had gone for £48/t.
Selling by weight gave sellers a marketing advantage, he suggested. “There are an increasing number of customers who are trying to avoid buying by the bale.”
Michael Stewart of Carlisle-based Harrison and Hetherington said trade had been pretty hit and miss over recent weeks.
One week he’d sold some mini Hesstons of barley straw for £74/t, but the following week they were making £55/t.
Mr Stewart said his feeling was that there was quite a lot of straw out there and people were running a tight ship, so holding back from purchasing.
The outlook for the coming weeks was difficult to predict, he said. “You can never tell. It could be a long winter and May before there’s grass about, so you can never tell how the season is going to pan out.”
Stuart Long from Midlands-based Howkins & Harrison said about 80% of the 3,200t on offer at their sale on 24 November had been cleared.
The top price was paid for 60 Massey Ferguson 187 bales which went for £15/bale. Barley topped out at £17/bale for the same size.
“The smaller the size of the bale, the harder it was to move,” said Mr Long.
Tom Mellor, auctioneer at Sedgemoor market with Greenslade, Taylor, Hunt, said while the clearance rate (45%) at their first sale of the season on 21 November wasn’t fantastic, people had been willing to spend for the right product.
“Really good, feed-quality (six-string) barley in a small load was achieving around the £70t mark. The wheat was around £55-60/t.”
Overall, barley bales averaged £21-25 each, while wheat averaged £16/bale.
Mr Mellor expected prices would be fairly consistent over the coming months.
“I think this year we will have a fairly even price.
“In certain seasons we’ve seen it start higher and end up lower when everyone realised they’d got far more in the sheds than they were ever going to sell. I don’t think there will be the peaks and troughs we have seen.”
Auctioneer Michael Alexander, who will preside over Brown & Co Alexander’s 2,500-3,500t annual sale in January in St Ives, Cambs, said he expected hay trade to be strong.
“We remain cautious in respect of the straw trade although quality is generally good and early indications are that demand is producing improved prices over last year.”