Straw values have risen by about £15/t over the past month, with many arable farmers continuing to hold off selling in the hope of further increases.
The British Hay and Straw Merchants Association (BHSMA) is currently quoting an average “buy-in” price – the ex-farm price they pay farmer suppliers – of £82.45/t for big bale barley straw and £79.81/t for big bale wheat.
In the south-west of England, the figure is £105/t for barley and £100/t for wheat.
A BHSMA statement for trade in the week ended 18 October said that while prices have been rising fast, its figures may seem low to some people.
“On the back of a poor harvest, farmers want more and more for their produce. Prices off the field were not too high, but now it has been put in the barns they are, in many cases, not selling for less than £100,” said the association.
It added that merchants had to factor in the costs of transport, splitting loads and storing before resale, with prices capped by the amount the end user is willing or able to pay.
Mike Evison, a trader based in East Yorkshire and former president of the BHMSA, said he was currently paying £85/t for both wheat and barley to secure supplies.
“But everyone is looking for the magical £100/t and, when it gets there, I think an awful lot of straw is going to come on the market,” he said.
“Some of the farmers are looking to get as much as they can, as they’ve had a bad year and they have something everyone wants.”
But Mr Evison warned that prices might not go through the roof in the way some people were anticipating.
Carrot growers have secured all they need for this year and there is plenty of second-quality straw available for composting for the mushroom sector, so that is taking some of the pressure off the market.
There are also not huge numbers of people ringing up asking for straw at the moment, as most seem to have enough in reserve.
It had been a mild October, so cattle are still outside and many people had wisely bought extra supplies at the end of last winter in anticipation of high prices this season, he said.
Ian Pearse, of merchants Pearse & Sons, which sells straw from Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire into Wales and the West Country, said while straw yields are 60% down on last year, many farmers do have a reasonable carry-over from last year.
This means demand is fairly static, with farmers tending to buy a load at a time, rather than three or four bales.
Mr Pearse said he is currently delivering barley straw into the West Country for £120+/t, with wheat and oats at £115+/t.
“But I’ve heard of a lot higher prices than that. We produce our own straw and know our costs and are trying not to overcharge for it.
“I personally think it will stabilise, and possibly come down as the winter goes on – if we have a good winter.
“If I was a livestock farmer at the moment, I would buy spot, as I need it and gamble on it not going any higher and possibly coming back.”
Graham Bruce, managing director of Scottish co-operative Ringlink, said the market in Scotland had been a bit stop-start.
There is an obvious shortage of straw in the south of Scotland, but the North East has seen good yields, with straw being transported from Aberdeenshire to meet that shortfall.
Barley straw is currently leaving farm for about £60-£70/t.
Mr Bruce warned that the market will only go to the point that buyers can afford to pay.
“If we look back to 2018, many of our members used alternatives. They still used straw, but blended it with alternatives because it became too expensive.
“I can see the same happening this year.”