Large stack of straw bales© Philip Silverman/REX/Shutterstock

October straw prices have hit a record high and could rise further this autumn amid tight supplies, according to the British Hay and Straw Merchants Association.

The organisation’s president, Mike Evison, said prices were at their “dearest ever for this time of year and some livestock producers [are] panic buying”.

In traditional livestock areas prices have risen by as much as £20-£30/t in less than a month and are now double the figure they were at the same time a year ago.

The quoted barley straw price in the West Country stood at £78/t and wheat straw at £73/t for the week ending 15 October 2017. At the same stage in 2016, barley was quoted at £40/t and wheat at £35/t.

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In the north-east of England, barley straw is currently £68/t – about £23/t higher than last year – while wheat straw in the region is £18/t ahead of 2016 prices at £60/t.

“On average, prices are about £60/t compared with £42/t in October 2016,” said Mr Evison who blamed wet weather for the short supply.

“Straw yields were about 30% down this year because of bad weather at harvest,” he said.

Bad weather hits supply

The intermittent rainfall means growers have combined in drier conditions, only for the lying straw to then get soaked.

“Repeated downpours meant a lot more straw was chopped rather than baled this year,” Mr Evison explained.

“The straw that has been harvested is more likely to have been affected by the rain, so there is an even tighter supply of good-quality crop and very little is being traded,” he said.

European farmers have also been hit by the bad weather and more livestock producers than usual are buying straw from abroad, he added.

Other pressures on supply include rising demand from small energy digesters, which comes on top of the 800,000t of straw purchased each year to fuel the UK’s power plants.

“Traditionally livestock farmers don’t purchase straw ahead for winter housing. Instead they purchase at spot prices in the autumn and that has created some panic buying and may push up prices still further,” he said.

Pressure on margins

The National Pig Association (NPA) said its members were facing a double pressure on margins as rising straw costs had come at a time when pig prices were falling.

The GB Standard Pig Price (SPP) was £1.59/kg – down another 1.5p on last week’s figure.

NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said: “As pig prices continue to fall, rising straw prices are a concern for indoor and outdoor producers.

“There just isn’t enough quality straw around and that is pushing up prices across the country. It is a situation that we will be monitoring as the winter months draw in.”

Dr Davies added: “This is being largely driven by the weather. But it also important that, while we support the diversification opportunities renewable energy brings, biomass plants don’t push up the price even further.”

Yorkshire pig farmer Phil Stephenson, chairman of the NPA’s producer group, warned that straw baled in wet conditions could cause disease.

“There is a lot of straw still in the swath and a lot of poor straw in our area. Hence the best comes at a high price.

“The problem is the constant wet weather has made it hard to get quality straw baled and poorer quality can lead to mycotoxin issues,” said Mr Stephenson.