19 August 1997

Full clamps …and maize plummets

By Tim Relf

STANDING maize crops are only worth about half as much as last year.

The seasons first auctions last week saw prices between £420 and £470/ha (£170 and £190/acre).

As Wright-Manleys Andrew Wallace says: "Everyone has got full silage clamps and the grass is growing as well as it ever has.

"Where there is local demand, prices could top £500/ha (£200/acre) but, in a buyers market, therell be no repeat of 1996."

Such news will come as a disappointment to farmers who, encouraged by bumper prices last year, grew extra maize to sell as a cash-crop.

At the present levels, values are about the break-even point for vendors, after deducting costs, says Mr Wallace.

John Morgan of the Maize Growers Association says demand has been hit by the bumper forage crop.

Maize yields are probably the best ever, too, with crops that in the past would have given 35t/ha (14t/acre), yielding 25% more this year. Its responded well to the weather.

"Its rained every week – and when it hasnt been raining, the sun has been shining," says Mr Morgan.

Winter grass-keep values could also been down on last year. Auctioneer David Brettell of Barber and Son says there could be more available than 12 months ago, when worries about the backlog of barren cows stopped farmers from renting it out.

Mr Brettell reckons the best land, fenced and available through to March, will be worth up to 60p per sheep per week.

Auctioneer Chris Jones of McCartneys says demand might be boosted, however, with the increased profitability in the sheep industry.

"People know the value of doing the job well; theyre more willing to spend a bit extra on grass keep, rather than keep the sheep hard done by in the winter."

Agreement dates will start at the end of September and the beginning of October. The longest ones will go through to April, although some lessors arent too keen on this, as it infringes on the summer grazing, says Mr Jones.n