28 February 1997

The rush for grasskeep is on: £250/ha

By Tim Relf

DONT expect to get summer grasskeep a whole lot cheaper than last year, say auctioneers as trading gets under way.

The season has, however, kicked off earlier than ever before, according to Chris Turney of Gloucester-based Hamiltons.

The prospect of a drought has prompted a rush for keep, ensuring the best land makes over £250/ha (£100/acre), he says.

Demand for such land has also been prompted by extensification subsidies. "Rather than cut back on livestock numbers, farmers are increasing their grazing acres," says Mr Turney.

Making the most money are blocks of flat ground, suitable for silage making.

Dairy farmers – keen to take a crop of silage and then graze the aftermath with followers – typically pay higher prices than beef or sheep producers, according to Mr Turney.

Richard Nancekivell of David James and Partners at Bristol says, while well fenced and well watered land will make the most, the subsidies available mean prices are now less dependant upon the quality of the keep.

"Buoyant land values have also prompted much to be sold,squeezing supplies available forletting."

Last year Mr Nancekivell saw an average of £262/ha (£106/acre) for grass keep. That marked an all-time high – attributable, he says, to the higher stock numbers immediately following the BSE scare.

His view now is that people arent prepared to pay any more than last year – but will have to make similar offers to secure their requirements.

Also fuelling demand is the wish to keep stocking rates below 1.4 livestock units/ha to qualify for the extensification payment, suggests Mr Nancekivell. And for steers there is the new additional amount if stocking density is less than 1 LU/ha.

McCartneys Glyn Owens, who trades keep in an area of the Welsh Borders dominated by sheep of beef suckler producers, is also expecting values to be slightly down on 1996.

Depending on "where it was and what it was", prices were between £173/ha and £450/ha (£70 and £200/acre) then, he recalls.

"Length of the let is also important," says Mr Owens. Most run from the beginning of April to the end of December. But generally the longer the period, the higher the value.

North of the border, meanwhile, auctioneer Robert Smellie at Strathaven, Lanarkshire, says demand may be lower with problems in the beef trade discouraging some from buying store cattle.

"They have had their fingers burnt once, and dont want to again," he says.

So keep is unlikely to be any dearer than last year, when values were typically about £185/ha to £198/ha (£75 to £80/acre), with a top price of about £370/ha (£150/acre), suggests Mr Smellie.


Grasskeep: A few forthcoming auctions

DateVenueTel

Mar 12/13Leics(01788-560321)

Mar 18Lanark(01357-520211)

Mar 25Avon(01934-876777)

Mar 25Powys(01547-528621)

Apr 14Derbys(01629-812777)