22 March 1996

Grass keep well ahead of last year

By Tim Relf

GRASS keep auctions are now under way, with prices typically up on last years levels.

One of the earliest offerings saw more than 1000 acres sold in the midlands last week, reaching a top price of £162/acre.

More than 460 acres of good-quality grazing in Leics, Warcs and Northants averaged £122/acre; while second-quality land in Staffs averaged £78/acre.

"Just three years ago, on the introduction of IACS, grass keep prices were in the doldrums at less than £60/acre," said Stuart Long of auctioneers Howkins and Harrison. Last years auction, meanwhile, averaged £82/acre.

Increased livestock premiums, confidence over subsidies and general agricultural prosperity helped put farmers in a generous mood, added Howkins and Harrisons Jeremy Watson.

Three-quarters of the area traded this year has been by private treaty, points out Mr Watson. "Prices are always lower than at auction. This year, they have been in the £70-£80/acre range."

At Gloucester, meanwhile, Charles Robinson of Bruton Knowles agrees many lots have been traded before coming onto the open market.

He said three pressures have forced prices to new highs:

&#8226 Farmers who were caught short of forage over the winter have been keen to obtain additional grass.

&#8226 A smaller area has been offered as landowners have changed annual grazing licences into short-term farm business tenancies.

&#8226 The reduction in the CAP maximum stocking rate, from 2.5 to 2 units/ha, has left farmers needing more land for the same number of animals.

"There is even an active market in grassland which has insufficient fencing and water, presumably for mowing."

At the annual sale at Skipton, N Yorks, on Monday, prices ranged from £90/acre to £240/acre.

In Scotland, however, early indications point to a weaker trade. John Swan and Sons annual offering last week at St Boswells saw trade level at £80/acre, down more than £5 on last year.

And on Monday at Paisley, auctioneer Willie Hamilton said some of the land was still under snow at the time of the auction. Prices reached £89/acre.

Demand came mainly from dairy farmers looking for fields in which to graze young stock and so maximise the silage area at home.n