19 June 1998

Split opinion over how high straw will go

By Tim Relf

OPINION is divided over the price standing straw will reach when auctions start next month.

Last season saw barley straw struggle to make £50/ha (£20/acre), with wheat straw often changing hands for less than half that.

Andrew Wallace, of Wright-Manley, Crewe, expects levels similar to last summer. "Prices are usually high when grass is scarce, but grass is plentiful this year," he says.

Mr Wallace says that lower grain values and cashflow problems will also keep a lid on what people pay.

But David Brettell, of Barber and Son at Market Drayton, says the need to keep animals cleaner will boost demand. "Any cattle that come into livestock markets dirty are suffering a substantial discount because the big abattoirs do not want them. People will bed stock down more regularly and more deeply," he predicts.

One advantage of buying straw standing in the field, says Mr Brettell, is that it avoids the risk of discovering in the autumn that you are short of it. "Because if you are, the chances are everyone else will be. If that is so, the best stuff will make a fortune and there is probably not the margin in beef to justify paying that – or you will be left with the rubbish."

A floor will be put in prices because, if values look like dropping too far, some farmers will chop and incorporate it, limiting supplies. Buyers will be looking for a strong weed-free crop. The best heavy, thick samples will probably be yielding 1.25t/acre, says Mr Brettell.

Simon Pallett, of Newbury-based Dreweatt Neate, reckons barley straw could be worth slightly more than last season. "Little has been carried over from last winter because of the late spring, and plantings of barley last autumn were down."

Private deals so far this summer have put barley straw at £37 to £50/ha (£15 to £20/acre) – and it could go higher, says Mr Pallett.

Surveyor David Thompson, of Hereford, is holding his first auction early next month. He thinks prices could rise slightly on last year, when wheat and barley straw made about £25/ha (£10/acre) and £37/ha (£15/acre), respectively. &#42

Shropshire farmer Robert Cooke (second from right) pictured last July, just before selling his winter barley straw. It made to £70/ha (£28.50/acre). With less cattle around, it might not make as much this year, he reckons.