24 July 1998

Its double bubble as standing straw demand spirals up

STANDING straw crops are meeting a buoyant demand at auction, with prices reaching double those seen last year.

Farmers are buying now, rather than waiting until the autumn or winter. Many chose to last year, say auctioneers, only to regret it as bad weather and limited supplies drove prices up.

The expensive on-the-lorry trade last winter (£50/t plus) has prompted more people to come to recent standing straw auctions, says Lyndon Trumper of J Straker Chadwick & Sons.

"There have been 20 or 30 people, compared with, say, half a dozen last year." The greater need to keep livestock clean has also boosted demand. "People are using more straw for bedding – and using it more often."

The companys auctions saw winter barley straw top at £100/ha (£40/acre), with spring barley making to £72/ha (£29/acre) and winter wheat to £69/ha (£28/acre).

Threshed ryegrass made to £46/ha (£18.50/acre), while turnip and pea haulm, together with oilseed rape, made top prices of between £12/ha and £15/ha (£5/acre and £6/acre). "In some parts of the country," says Mr Trumper, "these crops are considered completely and utterly useless – but suckler cow people see it as a cheaper alternative to straw."

Such crops are, however, weather sensitive. "If you get a wet time, theres nothing to bale."

Richard Furnival of Frank R Marshall says location is vital. "It only takes two farmers to want the same field and it will make a good price."

Farmers, he says, are addressing their straw needs earlier this year. "They dont want to get caught having to buy it for £70 to £90/t in the winter so have returned to buying it in the swath – even though it means having to do the hard work yourself."

But there some risk involved in buying it in the swath. As Jones Peckovers Wyn Morton says: "It could be cut today and raining tomorrow – and everyone wants dry straw."

All the same, people have been prepared to take this risk and values have been nearly double those seen 12 months ago.

Bernie Hutchinson of Barber and Sons says the bigger lots have been going to dealers – who put a floor in the values. "They want quality and quantity, allowing them a bulk-baling session."

Winter barley has ranged from £28.42/ha to £94/ha (£11.50/acre to £38/acre) this season, says Mr Hutchinson. Local demand is a key factor. "Where an arable farm is located next to beef and milk units, the straw will make good money."

Straw crops are generally looking thick and heavy, he says, with some promising to yield more than 2.5t/ha (1t/acre).

At Hereford, surveyor David Thompson says that barley straw has been "a little disappointing", averaging £40/ha (£16/acre). Demand was weak for ryegrass stubbs, says Mr Thompson.

Standing straw auctions

Average prices £/acre

Location Barley Wheat

Shropshire 29 25

Cheshire 24 16

Shropshire 22 16

Herefords 16 15

More farmers are buying straw as a

standing crop this year.