Keeping a weather eye on the price of straw in the UK

Last year's long hot summer was one of the best for a long time, and resulted in quality hay and silage. David Pritchard, of auctioneers Harrison and Hetherington, looks at how this has impacted on the prices farmers are paying

Farmers may have good supplies of straw and hay after last year's summer
Farmers may have good supplies of straw and hay after last year's summer

It's the first week of February and so far the season has been very open and mild, albeit rather wetter than usual.

Last year the growing and harvesting conditions were excellent after the severe winter – the best that has been seen for many years, in terms of producing premium-quality hay and silage with hardly a drop of rain.

And, despite the doom and gloom predicated on the back of the 2012 harvest and sowing of arable crops, for farmers 2013 was one of the best harvests for some time, with all of the straw safely harvested and gathered in before the weather broke.

The improved weather conditions through the summer/autumn period were much needed and the planting of winter arable crops got underway much sooner with crops getting well-established for the 2014 season.

In some areas, the grass has not stopped growing, and yes, it has been wet. However, winter has not really kicked in, in terms of snow, ice and frost.

In many areas, unaffected by flooding there still appears to be plenty of grass. All of these factors have resulted in many farmers not using the volumes of crop that they were using 12 months ago and as such there is not a shortage and plenty of feed about.

Last year livestock farmers were hit hard as the cost of forage, hay and straw did rise significantly in price. This year, as a result of the weather conditions, where possible everyone has kept their livestock out so much longer than in previous years.

To date the anticipated shortage has not happened and the excellent harvest combined with the mild winter has resulted in more supply than demand.

Straw, hay, silage and root products are not shifting as fast as they usually do at this time of year.

However, for many, one of the key factors that could be holding people back from purchasing is a shortage of cash.

In Carlisle over recent weeks, our auction market prices per tonne have been in the region of £95-105 for hay, £85-90 for barley straw, £75-80 for wheat straw and £73-75 for oat straw.

Compared with this time last year these prices are very similar but the key message is that there is a lot less quantity being sold and going forward the crop trade will depend on whether or not there is a harsher winter period from now on.

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