1 March 1996

Hay and straw prices likely to remain steady

By Tim Relf

WITH farmers on the countdown to turnout, analysts are suggesting that any increases in hay and straw prices are now unlikely.

But barley straw supplies remain tight and this is keeping values firm. "It is selling well, particularly in the south west and Wales," says Christopher Trower, vice-president of the British Hay and Straw Merchants Association. But trade in the north of England and Scotland is slower.

Straw is still a "good buy" compared with hay, suggests Mr Trower. "Hay might cost twice as much – and even then may be of a limited nutritional value."

Chris Boreham of Newbury-based auctioneers Dreweatt Neate agrees, saying barley straw still looks cheap compared with hay.

Dreweatt Neate has over 1500t of hay and straw catalogued for their late winter sale next Thursday (Mar 7). "By that time we may be only a month away from turnout," says Mr Boreham.

And prices are likely to be similar, or slightly weaker, than at their last sale in January, when small-baled wheat straw averaged £44/t, barley straw £54/t, meadow hay £116/t and seeds hay £141/t.

"The entry includes very little hay," says Mr Boreham. "Prices have weakened since panic-buying last autumn took prices to dramatic levels," he says. "People sourced their needs early on." His advice has been not to leave too much hay or straw to sell at the end of winter.

Meanwhile at Uttoxeter, Staffs, auctioneer Frank Hood says that though January and February tend to be "safe" months in which to sell, supplies of straw have been reasonably plentiful.

Prices traditionally could have been expected to increase at this time of year, he says. "But if there is an open spring and early grass, the trade could disappear."

And at Skipton, N Yorks, auctioneer Paddy Wrightson says the amount remaining to be marketed will be crucial in determining values. With best hay averaging £146/t on Monday, prices have hardened, he points out. This was probably due to the better quality entries, however.

Big-bale barley straw eased slightly to £41/t with small bales holding steady at about the £58/t-level. It was making these sorts of values off the combine last year, points out Mr Wrightson. &#42