A two-tier fodder market is emerging with Scottish merchants claiming they cannot afford the prices being charged north of the Border, compared to the reduced values in England.

According to one merchant who wished to remain nameless, good English barley straw "is almost half the price" of that in Scotland and it is of better quality.

"Prices are not coming down in Scotland purely because people are holding on to it in the belief that values will increase further. The prices machinery rings are charging is not helping matters either," he said.

"I am shifting a lot of good English barley straw just now and can deliver it throughout the Central Belt for £115 per tonne, which although is dearer than last year, is a lot cheaper than what greedy Scottish farmers are looking for."

He added that he can deliver wheat straw at £110 per tonne, with good quality sheep hay at £150-£160 per tonne in big 4 x 4 round bales.

Alan Lamont of Borders Straw however argued that while such forage is cheaper throughout much of England, the quality may not be the best as the increased amount of straw that has come on the market has been as a result of a new wave of arable farmers baling straw who had already chopped it in preparation to plough it into the soil. And, because they don't have the shed space to store it, such bales are unlikely to make as good bedding and could become extremely weathered as the season progresses.

"There is such a variable in the price and quality this year. At the end of last year we were selling good quality barley straw at £150 per tonne delivered whereas this year that price is anywhere north of £140 per tonne.

"Farmers have to realise the extra straw available in the south is not normal and that such straw will be stored outside and often chopped, so it won't be of the same quality as straw produced up here," said Mr Lamont.

In saying that, he advised farmers with shed space looking to buy such fodder to purchase it sooner rather than later and before the weather breaks.

Wheat straw values are nevertheless easing, with values north of the Border ranging from £70-£75 per tonne ex-farm, which compares to prices in England of £55-£65 per tonne.

"I don't think straw prices will go too extreme this year – farmers just can't afford it. There does seem to be slightly more straw about compared to last year, which combined with people selling cattle rather than take them through the winter, and those hoping to winter stock outside for longer, should ensure sufficient supplies," said Mr Lamont.

However, he also pointed out supplies could be hit if more straw is ammonia treated and used for feed on some farms that failed to harvest sufficient silage.

In contrast, hay is proving more difficult to source and while values are on a par with last year at £90-£95 per tonne ex-farm for good quality sheep hay, most farmers are holding on to it.

Prices were also back this week at Harrison and Hetherington's crop sale at Carlisle, according to auctioneer Andrew Templeton.

"Three weeks ago good quality barley straw was selling at £120 per tonne out of the market, but it's down to £90 per tonne and wheat straw is back about £15 per tonne to nearer £80-£90 ex the market," said Mr Templeton.

"There is a bit more optimism about now as the weather has held up and there is plenty of straw available in the south. There is also plenty of grass which is helping, so farmers are hoping to keep their stock out for longer this year," he added.

Echoing these statements, Aberdeen and Northern Marts' senior auctioneer, Marc MacIntosh also said good quality barley straw values are slipping, having hit record levels at the first sale at Thainstone at £25 per bale, three weeks ago, compared to the last sale at £18-£20 for 4 x 4 bales.

"There was a lot of panic buying at the start, and while there is still not a lot of straw coming forward, I don't think prices will go any higher. There is still some corn straw to bale too and while a lot of straw is shorter than in previous years, some carrot growers are using rape straw now which will also help ease the situation," added Mr MacIntosh.