13 March 1998

Hay trade is mixed, straw does better

By Tim Relf

FORAGE is meeting a mixed demand, with spring in sight and the countdown to turnout underway.

"As flat as a pancake," is how Dreweatt Neates Christopher Boreham describes hay trade after last weeks auction in Newbury.

Demand reflects the mixed quality of samples currently on offer – a result of wet weather of last year – and the lack of confidence in the livestock sector.

Straw, however, sold better with demand coming from farmers and horse owners. Supplies are still short, with less baled last summer. Barley made to £53/t (£1.06 a bale) with the best of the wheat not far behind at £50/t (£1 a bale).

"The recent mild weather has not depressed the straw price as some forecasters predicted."

But the temptation now, says Mr Boreham, is for farmers to bale straw again this summer. And that, he says, will create a surplus and drive trade down again. "Think carefully before you rush out and bale. The big-bale price will be hit first if the trade turns."

But Graham Baddeley of Tayler and Fletcher doubts that people will return wholesale to making straw, instead of chopping. It takes labour to bale, cart and stack it under cover. At that time of year, people are better getting on with the important jobs – like getting the land ploughed and the next crop in."

Straw generated some interest but demand for hay was "diabolical" at the firms collective auction at Stow-on-the-Wold last Friday, says Mr Baddeley.

But with much of last summers hay of dubious quality, he urges farmers still with stocks to shift it now rather than hang onto it.

"It might be better to sell it and then bale again this summer. The first loss is, after all, often the least loss. And that will free up the barns if we get a good season."

Nick Jeanes unloads straw at Dowrich Farm, Sandford, Devon, last week. Around the country demand for straw has been buoyant in recent months – but a rush to bale this harvest could see the market swamped and prices back in the doldrums next winter.

Average prices for straw (£/t) at Newbury sale

Small Big bales bales

Wheat straw 47 28

Barley straw 47 28

Meadow hay 53 36