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Feed merchants are shipping in hay from as far afield as Canada and Switzerland to keep up with demand for top-quality forage this year.

Wet weather early in the haymaking season means there is not as much of the highest-quality hay for sale as is usual at this time of year.

But recent dry spells mean there is enough moderate hay available.

John Barber of feed merchant Longhay in Letchworth, Hertfordshire, said: “We’re offering Canadian and Swiss hay this season to top up the best-quality hay that was harvested in June. Usually the UK is an exporter of hay and we don’t import from overseas but this year we’re having to find hay where we can. The only problem with Canadian hay is that it’s very expensive — £250 a tonne, where the best British is £200.”

Prices for moderate British hay have rocketed to around £3 per bale this year, around 50p more a bale than last year, and the best quality can cost as much as £6 a bale. Last year, it was £3.

Guy Gagen of the National Farmers’ Union said straw volumes have also been affected by the weather and it is important for horse owners to prepare now for the winter.

“We had two severe deluges coming after drought in April and this has severely affected all crops, including grass,” he said.

“Farmers say they will try to look after their existing customers, but won’t have any put aside for other buyers.

“It’s important for people to get in touch with their suppliers to ensure they have enough straw and hay for the winter.”

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (13 September, ’07)