23 August, 2012, Changing weather patterns during the current harvest and haymaking could have a devastating effect on straw stocks heading into the winter.
Now, one of the south's leading hay and straw auctioneers forecasts prices this winter will remain high because the late harvest, wet underlying ground, and need to get on with cultivation for the next planting cycle will force farmers to chop straw that would otherwise have been baled.
Haymaking has been difficult for some West Country farmers hit by waterlogged ground – they have not only lost their crop but also been forced to keep animals indoors eating into vital winter forage stocks.
In the central south, hay has become more plentiful as the summer progressed but the constant return of wet spells is again affecting quality even here, reports John Read, auctioneer with Carter Jonas. The big concern is the heavy wet spells continuing into early autumn, forcing more farmers to bring in livestock early to protect pasture with consequent consumption of forage stocks.
"The constant return of heavy rain is pushing back harvest and the need to turn straw when it gets wet further degrades quality," adds Mr Read. "Some farmers will have to chop straw as it exits the combine to avoid delaying soil preparation for the next crop.
"Last winter, farmers in southern England and Wales saw strong competition from Continental farmers who needed straw and there were instances of buyers from Wales and the West Country selling on the dockside in East Anglia to Continental buyers before returning to the central south to pick up a second load to take home. This year there will be even more domestic competition to buy what stocks remain.
"Quite often, prices will tail off towards the end of the winter but this year they remained strong right through to March and beyond.
"This season's hay is also being affected by the weather and for this reason farmers still holding good hay and straw would be advised to conserve it, either for their own use or to meet the anticipated strong demand."
Agronomist Mike Robinson, of consultant Agrii, supports the view that straw will be a hard-to-come-by commodity and expressed sympathy for dairy farmers in the west country who may struggle to buy enough winter bedding for their stock.
"Straw is just a nuisance for many arable farmers," he says. "Within 10 days of harvesting wheat they will be sowing rape for next season and there's no time to bale wheat straw – and doing so would anyway increase the risk of extra soil compaction. But some arable farmers have resorted to baling rape straw this year to try to meet demand from livestock farmers in the months ahead."
The first Carter Jonas sale this season is set for December 6 at Newbury Rugby Club. Entries need to be submitted by the end of October. For more details, contact John Read on 01635 263086 or email firstname.lastname@example.org