Farmers are warning that hay prices could rise to £6 a bale as the country faces its third year of hay shortages due to poor weather.

Farmer Martin Slade of Bracknell, Berkshire, said the year has been terrible for haymaking since the short June heatwave broke.

“There’s a diabolical shortage of hay. We’ve still got 250 acres to cut and have already sold what we’ve cut,” said Mr Slade.

The picture is the same throughout the country. Karen Condliff, owner of Pump House Farm and Livery near Congleton in Cheshire, makes haylage for her own yard and also sells it.

She said: “We’re lucky, we got our first cut done in June. It’s like gold dust, so we’ll be holding on to all our haylage.”

And Sue Gardiner, owner of Church Lane Farm and Livery in Shurdington, near Cheltenham, said: “We sell a lot of hay to the general public. Last year it was £2.50-£3 a bale, this year it could be £6.”

Current Met Office predictions are for an intermittently wet August.

If hay is cut late prices will rise and the majority of it will be poor quality.

Late hay is not as nutritious as that cut in July.

Isabel Harker, nutritionist for Spillers, said: “Late hay is less nutritious and more fibrous. It may not be suitable for foals or young horses.”

Guy Gagen, chief arable adviser at the National Farmers’ Union, said: “We recommend owners keep in contact with their supplier to let them know they need hay. Otherwise a farmer may not make the effort to make it.”

This article was first published in Horse & Hound (13 August, ’09)