A phenomenal grass-growing year and falling cattle numbers, have slashed fodder values with little hope of any improvement – until next season when they look set to soar again.

Last year, most producers were able to harvest huge amounts of silage and good crops of straw therefore supplies were always going to be well ahead of the poor stocks yielded the previous year which resulted in record prices for many in the 2018/19 season.

However, with a growing number of farmers not only reducing herd sizes, but also the amount of cattle they finish due to the continued dismal beef trade, demand for straw is well down. Many producers have also switched to alternative bedding, following the huge prices of the previous year.

"There is not the same demand for fodder as most farmers appear to have excess supplies of silage, hay and straw this year," said Lynne Macarthur, stock on agreement manager at Aberdeen and Northern Marts' Thainstone Centre.

"Last year, many producers were struggling to get enough fodder and were worried about how they were going to feed and bed their stock in the spring, so there was an element of panic buying with some crazy prices.

"There is still a lot of fodder out there to be sold. Some people are buying, as it is so cheap and maybe leaving there own inside straw in case there is a fodder shortage this year. It is very much an uncertain market, and dependant on the weather this spring and summer," added Miss Macarthur.

Backing up these statements, she said last week's sale at Thainstone saw 1186 bales of fodder forward, which saw inside stored barley straw average £5.10 per bale with outside barley crop at £2.29. Hay, haylage and silage averaged £11.46, £8.90 and £8.53 per bale, respectively.

This compares to the same sale last year, which shows average prices a good three to four times higher. That sale of 1554 bales saw barley straw average £22.60 with hay and haylage at £43.60 and £29.50 and silage at £24.75. Heston bales of barley and oat straw, levelled at £51 and £30 per bale, respectively.

Perthshire fodder merchant, Stan Johnston, also said prices were well down on last year's record values, with barley straw at £7-£8 per average 4x4 round bale ex-farm compared to a good £20+ per bale last year.

"Prices are back to where they should be, with hay down to £18-£20 per bale compared to £35 ex-farm, last year," he said. "A lot of farmers are not selling either because it is so cheap but then there is not the same demand for straw when a good number of farmers have sold off their cows or are not buying the stores to finish when the beef trade is so poor."

However, he added that root crops are not so easy bought, with turnips at £20-£25 per tonne ex-farm and no brock potatoes to be found. Best deal appears to be carrots at £10-£15/t ex-farm.

Despite some horrendous flooding over the past couple of months, there still appears to be ample supplies of fodder south of the Border too.

"Prices are lower because there was so much produced in 2019 and because the cattle are not there to use the straw as a lot of breeding cattle have been sold because they were losing money," said William Pringle of Philip Judge International fodder merchants based in Gloucestershire.

"Last year we were selling barley straw at £140-£150 per tonne delivered whereas this year it's down at £95-£100 with wheat straw at £90. Best quality sheep hay was also well up last year at £200 per tonne delivered compared to £115-£120, selling to the west coast of Scotland and up to Inverness.

"There are more orders coming in now, but with all the flooding, little winter crop sown and the the ground still too wet to plough, there is a real possibility straw supplies could be dubious for this time next year," added Mr Pringle, pointing out that many arable growers are looking to store their straw and sell it next season when the price rises.

The firm does nevertheless do a lot of business with German and Dutch farmers due to the droughts in Europe, transporting lorry loads of hay to them, bringing back wood shavings on their return for British farmers.

At Harrison and Hetherington's crop sale at Borderway Mart, Carlisle, on Monday, barley straw sold to £80 per tonne in mini hestons with round bales to £18 and £17 per bale. Wheat straw in mini hestons sold to £61 and £60 per tonne, and in round bales to £45/t. Round bales of oat straw peaked at £19 per bale.