By Simon Wragg

HUGE disparities in regional prices continue to dominate the straw market, leaving established merchants questioning margins.

Auctioneer Richard Stagg has witnessed prices in mid-Devon follow other western areas and creep up, despite the potential loss of livestock farms to foot-and-mouth.

“Of the limited barley straw that has been on offer, prices would have averaged over 45/acre – with bids topping 73/acre for standing straw.”

Although straw supplies have been questioned after a difficult growing season, Keith Pegden, a Basingstoke-based merchant, believes the economics are not justifiable when stock farms are already suffering financial difficulties.

“The end price is getting silly – the figures just dont stack up. The cost of baling and shifting straw is creeping up and you have to question whether the buyers have done their sums.”

In the eastern arable belt straw costs have also risen, say traders.

“Some arable estates are asking nearly double for wheat straw, saying its value as P and K for following crops has shot up following higher fertiliser costs,” comments one buyer.

Mr Trower of the Hay and Straw Merchants Association says that the crunch will come as autumn buying gets into full swing.

“We have yet to see the effect of foot-and-mouth on customer numbers, but merchants say there will be enough supplies to go around.”