11 December 1998

Demand outstrips limited supplies of straw on offer

By Tim Relf

STRAW is selling very well as limited supplies meet a strong demand.

"It was standing room only," says Tayler & Fletchers auctioneer John Shayler of a recent sale at Stow-on-the-Wold. "We were approaching it cautiously – after all, theres not a lot of money around at the moment."

But bidding was competitive throughout, giving clearance rates of 92% for straw and 65% for hay. Barley and oat straw reached a high of £48/t, with wheat making it to £44/t.

Barn-stored samples, meanwhile, continue to make much more than that stacked outside, adds Mr Shayler. "So if you go to the trouble of baling it, dont let it stand outside."

The Stow auction saw Lucerne hay sell to £158/t, with seed and meadow entries topping at £150 and £92/t respectively. Most hay, however, was of variable quality after a "exceptionally poor" hay-making season.

It was a similar story at Dreweatt Neates Newbury auction of 2750t last Thursday, where the hay trade was poor and clearance was 50%. But the trade for straw was "better than expected", according to auctioneer Simon Pallett.

Straw reached £48/t and big bales – though trading at a slight discount – were also in strong demand.

Prices are "surprisingly" high, says David Russell at Chelford mart, Cheshire, where barley straw averaged £61/t last Mon-day. Supplies are relatively short, he says, with last weeks offering about half the amount seen 12 months before.

"People are holding off selling it until after Christmas in the hope that prices rise," says Mr Russell.

Buyers, meanwhile, need it after poor autumn weather forced early stock housing.

Supplies could be tight, too, with many farmers reporting yields about 25% lower than in the past, says Mr Russell.

But Christopher Trower, of the British Hay and Straw Merchants Association, doubts if theres any shortage. Yields on a lot of farms were up on last year with many wheat and barley straw giving 1.25t and 1.5t/acre respectively, he says. "Some oat crops were very heavy."

Fewer people will be buying this winter, too, with farmers keeping lower livestock numbers in the face of bad returns.

"While prices are quite good, people are not rushing around wanting loads yesterday," says Mr Trower.

Those people who are buying are planning to use it soon, rather than to build up stocks to guard against rising prices later in the winter. "They wouldnt be paying these prices unless they wanted it for use now." &#42

Newbury Auction

Selection of prices (£/t)

Small bales Big bales

Barley straw 45 37

Wheat straw 41 27

Ley hay 67 50