5 May 1995

GRASS KEEP TAKES A BIG LEAP

Welsh farms suffering from the high price of grass keep are shopping around for the best prices, reports Louise Rose

STRONG demand for grass keep in Wales is leading to buoyant prices as farmers seek extra grazing. Many are looking for more land to satisfy the requirements of the extensification scheme which demands a maximum stocking rate of 1.4 livestock units/acre and is worth £25.45/livestock unit.

Many farmers are stocked at about 1.6 livestock units/acre, according to Edward Bowen of land agents Bowen Son and Watson. "The economics of buying grass keep to reduce stocking rates, and therefore qualifying for extensification payments, are worthwhile," he says.

Eleven-month keep is fetching up to £160/acre and seven-month summer grazing £120/acre near Welshpool, says Jim Evans of Morris Marshall and Poole. "Even steep hill ground is achieving £70/acre."

The volume of keep within his area has increased this year. The reason is land being let by farmers close to retirement. "Many older farmers have chosen to let their land rather than continue farming it themselves. After last years buoyant trade for grass keep it is seen as a good source of income," he says.

The average price paid around Wrexham is currently £150/acre for a seven month let – although top quality land has been fetching £200. Winter lets, starting in October and running to the end of February/mid March, are averaging £50/acre. But some parcels have reached £85/acre, says John Brereton of agents Jones Peckover.

He attributes much of this years increased demand to last winters fodder shortage. "This year farmers are covering their backs rather than risking having to pay excessive prices for fodder over the winter," he says.

Land around Wrexham is let in anything up to 85-acre blocks but most demand is for between 20 and 40 acres, says Mr Brereton.

More keep is being let by private treaty this season especially when it has been let in previous years. "Landowners like to have control over who grazes their land. That cannot be guaranteed at auction," says Mr Bowen. Prices this season are 10% up on last year at between £90 and £130/acre.

Good grazing around Llanidloes has been sold for between £120 and £180/acre for 11 months and poorer hill land for up to £80/acre, according to Chris Shepperd of agents Norman R Lloyd.

Although more land has been offered for grass keep this year that has not affected prices which have remained buoyant. "Many farmers are choosing to get an income out of the land rather than farm it themselves," he says.

He suggests that farmers are not prepared to travel as far as they were 10 years ago for grass keep. Most seek land within a 10-mile radius of their holding.

At a recent auction of the Whitton Charity Lands near Presteigne, Powys, Glyn Owens of agents McCartneys auctioned 146 acres on 11 month contracts. An average of £121/acre was achieved for 78 acres of pastureland and 68 acres of hill land made nearly £60/acre.

Mr Owens says that grass keep values are up by 10% on last year within the area as farmers try to meet stocking levels for the extensification premium. &#42