4 April 1997

Grass keep rents down on last year

By Allan Wright

GRASS is worth less this year then last season.

In Scotland, the annual round of grass park lets shows values down by a third in some cases, as the BSE crisis and falling milk prices hit demand.

"We are really back to values of two years ago," said auctioneer Tom Wallace from Dumfries, where he has seen prices between 10% and 20% down on 1996. That puts the general run in the £250 to £300/ha (£100 to £120/acre) range.

"There was a tremendous demand for grass last year as farmers struggled to keep cattle in the early months of the BSE crisis."

But interest has fallen now, even though some people are chasing grass to meet arable aid acreage claims, says Mr Wallace.

Further west, Wallets Marts at Castle Douglas reported a drop of 36%. The lack of interest from dairy producers was given as the main reason, plus the exceptional BSE-led demand of last year.

And at Stirling, George Scott of United Auctions said prices have averaged £171/ha (£69/acre) with a top of £358/ha (£145/acre). Thats 10% down on the year.

"We are not letting the best of grass and it is a year older," said Mr Scott.

In the same area, Caledonian Marts Jim Dunn reported a rare increase in values with 120ha (300 acres) slightly dearer at between £272 and £314/ha (£110 and £127/acre).

Lawrie and Symington at Lanark, meanwhile, said prices for 325ha (800 acres) were exactly the same as last year, averaging £205/ha (£83/acre) and making to £405/ha (£164/acre).

Its a similar story south of the border.

Tom Killen of Alder King in Chippenham, Wilts, has seen auction prices about 20% down.

Surplus stocks of forage left over from the winter have contributed to the "cautious" demand, he says.

A lot of private treaty deals have, however, been done at similar levels to last season, reflecting "continuity and goodwill", points out Mr Killen.

Dry weather is, meanwhile, a feature of the equation. Chris Turney of Gloucester-based Hamiltons says that concerns of a drought are now helping to shore up demand for grass.

The grass is always greener… Wright-Manleys David Fisher says that after a dry spell, grass now needs "growing showers". Perhaps then it will look more like this Shropshire sward, in which he was pictured last May shortly before letting it as part of a 30ha (74-acre) offering which averaged £284/ha (£115/acre).