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Drought leads to high straw prices

July 2023

Tom Mellor, Partner at Greenslade Taylor Hunt, reports on the factors affecting crop yields and current prices.

“This year, cattle turnout was hampered for many due to the poor ground conditions experienced, which was solely due to the level of rainfall experienced at the end of the winter/start of the spring. This has led to cattle farmers generally having less of a carryover from the previous winter, which was unusually kind. The exceptionally dry and hot spell we have just experienced in May and June has stalled grassland growth, which will have lessened forage yields and led to many supplementary feeding, which will put further stress on forage stocks – a double whammy!

From my pre-auction inspections I would suggest tonnage per acre would, on the whole, be slightly reduced on the year. Straw quality will depend entirely on the weather conditions at the point of combining, as if the season is ‘catchy’, straw quality does certainly suffer if it gets rained on. If we experience a very wet harvest, in the Home and Eastern Counties there is a tendency to chop the straw as opposed to bale it, which can restrict winter supplies and merchants quoted prices later in the season, which is a complete unknown at the moment.

The trade for straw in 2022 was lacklustre with bidders showing no real ‘fire in their bellies’, but it was evident at the 2023 sales that this trend had been bucked and competitive bidding was experienced throughout. Whilst the delivered in prices being quoted at the time of the sales were little different to that of a year ago, I believe purchasers were mindful of the volatile weather seasons that have been experienced recently. Whilst purchasers of standing straw can never be 100% sure of the quantity of straw the fields will yield, a discerning purchaser will have a good idea and this early purchase will mitigate whatever the future weather and trading conditions may be thrown their way. At our recent standing straw auctions, in terms of prices, I was anticipating a lift in the trade, but my initial predictions were increases of 10-15%, whereas the reality was to the tune of 30%.

Our winter forage auctions commence in November and head through until March. It is too early to predict too accurately, as ultimately a lot can happen between now and then, but the early indication is that supplies will be tight and demand will be high. No need for panic stations quite yet, but IF we see a heatwave and dry spell like we did at the backend of last summer, many livestock farmers will find themselves in head scratching mode, reassessing stock levels and planning their winter feeding regime with greater scrutiny.”

Contact Tom at Sedgemoor Auction Centre on 01278 410250 or email here.

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