19 July 2002

Straw looks at big falls this season

By Simon Wragg

A DEFINITE cooling off has marked the start of the straw-in-the-swath sales season with bidders keen to avoid the exceptionally high prices paid last year.

The next fortnight witnesses several large offerings with vendors being warned to expect a £10-15/acre fall in values from last seasons levels.

"Thats about the sum of it," says Wright Manleys Andrew Wallace after the companys annual sale at Dearnford Hall, Whitchurch, Shropshire, last week. Spring barley averaged £28/acre, winter barley £41 and winter wheat £27.85 (see table).

"Buyers appear reticent. Having paid dearly last year, some were faced with a difficult harvest and poor straw quality. They wont want to be bitten again. As a guide, we are £10/acre back on last year," he says.

Other factors are also having an impact. This season witnesses a sharp recovery in the area of winter barley and wheat after dismal autumn sowing conditions in 2000. According to the latest Home-Grown Cereals Authority planting survey for 2002, the GB winter barley area is up 27% on last year at 580,000ha (1.43m acres).

In a similar vein, wheat plantings stand at 2.07m hectares (5.07m acres) – again a rise of 27% on 2001 – with the greatest rises in the midlands and northern counties. As a consequence, the area of spring barley has fallen dramatically, down 175,000ha (432,000 acres).

The delivered-in market for straw is also capping standing crop values. Good quality big-bale barley straw can be bought for £28-40/t depending on location, and wheat for £27-35, well back on 2001.

But bids vary according to location, access and local demand, says Richard Stagg of Devon-based Stags. "Overall, buyers are faced with some very bulky crops of straw."

In Herefordshire, auctioneer David Thompson says oat crops look particularly well. "At £40/acre they look dear, but volume will compensate."

Prospective buyers will also be keeping one eye to the weather when bidding, says Bernie Hutchinson of Shropshire-based Barbers.

"A few wet days and the trade is soon on the back-foot. Nobody wants the difficulties of last harvest again, that is sure to be at the back of buyers minds," he says.

In central arable areas some vendors have been disappointed by offers of £10-12/acre for barley straw and £6-9 for wheat, reports Newbury-based auctioneers Dreweatt Neate. "With hungry soils, it is worth more to plough in," says the firms Kevin Prince. &#42


Area Winter wheat Spring barley Winter barley Winter oats

N Yorks 19-25 31

N Shropshire 21-39 20-40 29-54 31-34

Mid-Cheshire 41-45

Wirral 24-44 28-46 29-48

W Herefordshire 35-45 30-36 30-40

Mid/North Devon 15-27 12-40 30-45 18-50

Home Counties** 9 12

West Wales 48 39 50 51

*Prices nearest £/acre.

**Exceptionally little trade.