26 January 1996

Barley still top of all the straws

BARLEY straw continues to sell well, but wheat straw remains difficult to shift. And hay is meeting a mixed reception.

At Dreweatt Neates offering of 2500t of produce at Newbury, Berks last Thursday, small-baled barley straw averaged £53.50/t and oat straw £49/t.

"Less barley straw is produced nowadays as some farmers have put land on which they grew winter barley into set-aside," says auctioneer Simon Pallett.

Wheat straw, meanwhile, was in more plentiful supply and, at £43.70/t, made similar values to those of the auctioneers last sale in December.

But it was noticeable from the start that demand for hay had fallen since then. Although making up to £163/t (£3.60/bale) for a ryegrass ley sample, meadow hay fell about 15% overall, to average £116/t (£2.70/bale).

"Increasing resistance among farmers to pay the sort of prices seen last autumn has led to an easing of values," says Mr Pallett.

And in some cases, merchants are not buying as they still have stocks which they bought when prices were higher and have been unable, or unwilling, to sell now values have eased, he adds.

But even so, present levels are still higher than in most years, he points out.

Earlier in the month at Alexanders offering of 3000t at St Ives, Cambs, conventionally-baled seeds hay averaged £160/t and meadow hay £131/t. "We expected the buoyant hay prices," says organiser Andrew McFarlane-Holt.

"Demand for barley straw was stronger than expected, considering the large volume produced in the excellent weather after last years harvest.

"Before the sale, there seemed to be a feeling that trade had slackened. But in fact it proved to be stronger than most people had anticipated.

"What happens now depends on how hard the rest of the winter is. And it doesnt only have to be cold to prolong the feeding period. This will happen if it is wet, too."

Unless the weather is particularly mild, prices should hold, suggests Mr McFarlane-Holt.

Philip Pocock of auctioneers Adkin agrees, saying prices could rise if there is a cold snap. Adkins annual sale at Abingdon, Oxon last week saw seeds and meadow hay average £150.30/t and £122.40/t respectively.

Still a shortage

"There is still a shortage of good-quality hay and barley straw. But wheat straw is plentiful and is more difficult to shift, especially when it lacks quality," says Mr Pocock.

Vice president of the British Hay and Straw Merchants Association Christopher Trower says farmers are still trying to find alternatives to hay. It is used far less for feeding farm stock than in the past, he points out.

Produce sales – average prices: (£/t small bales)

St IvesAbingdon