4 August 1995

Bigger area but straw still firm…

By Tim Relf

STANDING straw continues to meet a firm demand despite the vastly increased area offered this year.

John Mullock of Shropshire-based Nock Deighton, for example, has sold over 1000ha (2500 acres), twice as much as in 1994.

Limited road access in some parts of the locality has prevented prices reaching the "dizzy heights" seen in some areas, he says. But a month ago winter barley was typically making £99 to £111/ha (£40 to £45/acre) and winter wheat £62 to £82/ha (£25 to £33/acre).

"However, trade did ease off," says Mr Mullock. And, more recently, he saw barley making £87 to £99/ha (£35 to £40/acre) and wheat £44 to £54/ha (£18 to £22/acre).

Prices, say auctioneers, are mainly dependent upon:

&#8226 Expected yield.

&#8226 Strength of local demand.

&#8226 Access.

&#8226 Field size.

Wright-Manleys Andrew Wallace says the number of potential buyers within a four- or five-mile radius is crucial in determining values.

And reports of yields, meanwhile, point to variations from below 2.5t/ha (1t/acre) to over 5t/ha (2t/acre).

In the case of spring crops, warns Mr Mullock, the straw may be brittle and break easily as a result of the dry weather.

Another important variable is how the crop is combined. "One contractor, for example, may cut it higher than another."

Such uncertainties, combined with this seasons buoyant prices, have prompted some to question the merits of buying standing as opposed to ready-baled straw.

"There is a certain amount of risk inherent in it," says Bagshaws Frank Hood. "And some farmers may not have the time and machinery it takes to bale and cart."

Mr Hood has seen baled barley straw making about £10/t more this year than 1994 at Uttoxeter.

"But buying bales at, for example, £65/t does not seem so expensive, especially when you remember the yield from a standing crop could turn out to be, say, only 2.5t/ha (1t/acre)."

Similarly, Abergavennys Syd Walker says buying barley straw behind the combine at £125/ha (£50/acre) is only a reasonable bargain if the yield proves satisfactory.

"You will be looking for 5t/ha (2t/acre) if you pay this much," he says. And tonnages, generally, are about 70 to 75% of those seen last year, he suggests.

"Another advantage of buying it baled is that you can buy loads as and when you need them."