By Simon Wragg

STANDING straw prices have fallen sharply from last years record highs, and not before time, say merchants.

Trade talk and empty barns saw winter barley values soar to over 50/acre in some cases last year, bringing widespread condemnation from dealers.

This seasons trade is steadier, but firm. However, merchants suggest farms will see little return for some straw in the swath, particularly wheat.

Basingstoke-based Keith Pegden suggests big-bale barley straw is being quoted at 25/t loaded in the field and, after costs, could leave as little as 10/t for the vendor.

“Small-bale supplies are a bit dearer because theres not so much about. However, wheat will be difficult, with baling costs just about matching prices being offered by some buyers.”

Demand is strongest in the arable areas adjoining the livestock-dominated West Country.

Greenslade Taylor Hunt was one of the first to hold a collective auction, offering straw on farms across north Somerset and Devon.

Wheat saw initial bids between 30-39/acre and barley 35-44, reports the companys Robert Venner.

Subsequent sales have seen values fall further.

Money is tight and an offering of spring-sown crops in Gloucestershire met a relaxed trade, says auctioneer Gwilym Richards.

Selling on behalf of Kinley Farms, Stonegate winter wheat achieved 26/acre and spring barley 20/acre.

“There will be an offering of winter barley next week which should coincide with some buyers milk cheques and we hope for a better sale.

“Prices are back, but it just goes to show how volatile the trade can be,” says Mr Richards.

Across the border in Scotland, Stuart Thomson of Dumfries-based Thomson, Roddick and Laurie reports values are back about 10/acre.

Local dealer Russell Kingan puts trade at about 25/acre; a little more for barley and a little less for wheat.

Competition for straw from the eastern arable heartland is expected to increase with this Septembers scheduled completion of a straw-burning power station near Sutton, Cambridgeshire.

That should drag in supplies from a 50-mile radius, say traders.

In the north-east, most standing straw is sold by private agreement, says Malton-based Peter Woodall.

Prices are expected to be easier in line with auction values.