29 January 1999

Straw demand high but hay in bad way

WET winter weather is driving demand for straw from farmers and merchants.

Top prices included £44/t and £39/t for barley straw in small and big square bales respectively at last weeks collective auction at Wantage, Oxon.

"The weather has been so horrible," says Philip Pocock of Adkin Agricultural. Catchy conditions at harvest meant less was baled, stock was housed earlier and tighter regulations on keeping animals clean for slaughter have all contributed to the buoyant demand. "Plus we started the winter with the barns empty."

But with cattle and sheep prices in the doldrums, buyer resistance will keep a lid on trade over the coming months, says Mr Pocock. "Livestock farmers can hardly afford it at this money."

Hay, meanwhile, was a different story, says Mr Pocock. "Its a sorry job." The quality of some is questionable after bad June weather. Demand is also weaker than in previous years, with cattle numbers down. "There arent the number of mouths to eat it."

Christopher Trower of the British Hay and Straw Merchants Association agrees the weather is a big factor. "Everybodys under water."

But supplies wont run out, says Mr Trower. What could happen, though, is that people might not be able to get the type of bales they want, namely the more-popular small and medium-sized ones.

Fewer of the small bales were made, he says. "Handling is a nightmare and some people have not got the labour to do it."

At Dreweatt Neates recent Newbury auction in Berks, interest in straw was better than expected, says the firms Simon Pallett, with big bales as sought after as small ones.

Topping the trade was Messrs Miller of Upton who saw their barley and wheat straw reach £53/t (£1/bale) and £48/t (96p/bale) respectively.

Nearly all the straw changed hands at Newbury – unlike the hay, less than half of which found a buyer. It made to £90/t for ryegrass seeds hay destined for stable use. "The trade for hay has fallen back since December with more on offer and little of top quality," says Mr Pallett.

Straw is in short supply, says Michael Evans of Russell Baldwin and Bright after last weeks auction of winter fodder on 36 Herefordshire and Gloucestershire farms. It sold out, topping at £64/t and £54/t for small-baled barley and wheat samples respectively. &#42

Straw auctions

£/t small bales

Venue Average

Barley Wheat

Berks 45.00 46.00

Oxon 42.50 38.75

Hereford 59.45 46.49

Hay auctions

£/t small bales

Venue Average

Meadow Seeds Ley

Berks 48.00 56.00 72.00

Oxon 49.50 75.00 n/a