Baled straw set to flood market

21 August 1998

Baled straw set to flood market

By Tim Relf

BARLEY straw is making £50/t or more in markets – and about half that when sold off the farm to merchants.

Other growers, however, are hanging on to it, hoping for higher prices. But the big quantities baled could keep winter values below last years bumper levels.

Andrew McFarlane Holt of Alexanders reckons more has been baled after the experiences of last season. Back then, it was a "valuable commodity" – proving, in some cases, to be worth almost as much as grain.

"There is a lot of nice straw this season – but a lot that is grubby, too," he says. And this, together with big supplies, will keep a lid on prices.

But the late spring left barns empty and a lot of forage was sold that otherwise would have been carried over, points out Peter Steen, auctioneer at Melton Mowbray.

There should, he reckons, be a strong demand for bright, clean barley straw samples. "Even early on, there could be a fair take-up," says Mr Steen.

Straw, meanwhile, continues to make a useful contribution to the bottom line, says Doug Crockford of merchant Abbott & Co. "Farm incomes are under attack from all areas."

The key to the supply equation now will be the weather over the coming weeks. "If the weather is unsettled, farmers wont bale wheat straw because they dont want cultivations to be delayed."

And it is for this reason, points out Christopher Boreham of Dreweatt Neate, that some growers sell it before harvest as a standing crop. "The primary object is to get it cleared. Timeliness is all."

Very little straw has been held over from last year, reckons Mr Boreham. Some dairy producers were even feeding it in the early summer.

One farmer, meanwhile, who is hoping for a repeat of last years buoyant straw trade is Leon Radford at St Ives, Cambs. Hes opted not to sell any yet. "Ive not seen my sort of prices yet.

"Get the barns full, go away on holiday, then wait for the winter," is his plan.

Meanwhile at Abergavenny, Gwent, auctioneer Lyndon Trumper expects increasing numbers of buyers to be looking as time passes. The main factors holding people back is a lack of storage space and the likelihood of wastage between now and the time of use.

The danger of delaying buying, however, is that demand and prices could rise. "And if you have got cows housed in March, and you are lambing, you have to have straw."

Small-baled barley straw has been already making about £50/t (just under £1/bale) at Abergavenny. And in a season when there is no shortage of poor quality hay around, some farmers may use this as an alternative bedding, adds Mr Trumper.

But the best hay will be expensive. "Nice quality horse and sheep-hay will be hard to find – and prices are already pushing £75 or £80/t."

More straw looks like getting baled this summer than last year. But prices seem unlikely to reach last seasons levels.

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