As glorious as this dry, hot spell is, with no sign of any significant rainfall on the horizon, fears are growing fast of another forage shortage.

While there has already been an abundance of superior quality silage and even hay made over the past month, such has been the continued dry spell in all areas of the UK, that some dairy farmers are already having to dip into first cut crops due to a lack of regrowth.

Add to that growing demand for straw for digesters, bedding, feeding and for carrot crops, on the back of last year’s shortage, and alarm bells are already ringing amongst fodder merchants.

“You wouldn’t believe that lightning could strike twice and in two very different ways,” said international forage merchant, Philip Judge, who is based in Oxfordshire.

“We’ve gone from a very, very wet year with a real shortage of hay and straw, to an extremely dry year and greater shortages and believe you me, sourcing fodder in a drought year is so much harder than in a wet year.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before and to top it all, sheds are very, very empty. The only thing I have moved recently is three and four-year-old hay that has been tucked away at the back of a shed,” Mr Judge said.

He added that while farmers have been able to get on earlier with harvesting of hay and silage, and have produced some extremely good quality crops, the quantity is not there which in turn is likely to impact on prices as the season progresses.

Last year, good quality sheep hay was trading at £200 per tonne delivered, with straw peaking at £180 per tonne, and Mr Judge expects more of the same this year. However, it’s the shortage of straw that is likely to be the biggest problem he said.

“There is already a massive demand for new crop straw in south-west England, with farmers paying anything from £100-£230 per acre to buy straw in the field which they then have to bale and cart home. Last year, they were paying half that.

“The power stations that rely on straw to feed their plants ran out of supplies last year so they have upped their prices to ensure a continued supply this year and, of course, farmers are having to do the same. Demand for straw is set to soar because once it’s gone, it’s gone, whereas future forage supplies all depend on whether we get the rain to make more,” added Mr Judge.

Closer to home, Perthshire merchant, Stanley Johnston, also believed sourcing straw of any kind this year will be a problem.

“The job is a disaster,” he said. “We’ve not started new season yet, but you can hardly buy straw as people are not willing to sell purely because they are looking to hold on to it until prices get dearer.

“Last year, we were selling good quality barley straw at £170-£180 per tonne delivered and it will go dearer this year as a lot of the spring crop could be wasted when so much of it was late being drilled and it hasn’t received the rainfall.There will be no tonnage of spring straw this year as a lot of it is only six-inches tall, and is bent over.”

He added that sourcing any quantity of hay will also be difficult when a lot of crops have yielded two-thirds of what they produced last year and no-one wants to sell.

“I know of people who have harvested 100-200 bales less from the same acreage they cut last year, and everyone is looking to store it when hay was so scarce last year.”

On a more optimistic note, Graham Bruce, managing director of Ringlink Scotland, believed there is still time to grow and harvest more hay and silage, provided the rain comes, and that the straw shortage will not be as bad as feared.

“A lot can happen between now and harvest time and if there is a straw shortage, I’d like to think it’ll be no worse than last year as there are bedding alternatives.

“There was a shortage of straw last year and we got through the season without too many problems. People just learn to cut back on how they use it, or they switch to shavings, sawdust, peat, or graze animals on lighter paddocks.

“Of course, the longer the drought goes on, the more difficult it will become, but if we are able to harvest good quality straw, it will stand up better to being used for bedding and last longer,” added Mr Bruce.