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Horse owners are suffering punitive hay and straw prices for the second year running.

Last year hay prices rose dramatically – and have remained high. A dry spring and wet summer this year, as well as a high export trade to Europe due to a poor harvest there, have led to more problems.

And there are warnings of further price hikes as the winter goes on.

According to the Hay and Straw Merchants Association (HSMA), hay prices are highest in the eastern counties, at around £110 per tonne. The cheapest can be found in Scotland, at £60 per tonne.

Livery yard owner John Shears from Kent told H&H he’s seen a more than 100% rise in the past two years.

“It went up massively last year and has risen again,” he lamented. “I can’t pass this on to my liveries, so have had to swallow the cost.

“You can understand the yield is down so they need to raise prices, but some farmers are opportunists. It’s like ‘hay wars’ – we’re being held to ransom by the suppliers.”

Supplier Richard Wade from JR Wade and Sons, Notts, said he’s had to put prices up by around 80% over the past three years.

We have plenty of demand, but the supply’s just not there,” he told H&H. “Unfortunately, we have had to raise prices and turn down custom. I can definitely see it getting worse over the winter.”

And farmers say the rising costs of harvesting are having an effect on hay and straw prices.

Ben Bonnett from Top Grass Haylage, Cambs, added: “Fuel costs combined with low grass yields mean prices had to increase for us to remain in business.”

At the peak in March, the national average wholesale price was £130 per tonne, but in November this had dropped to around £90, the HSMA reported. And April Gingell from HSMA told H&H that hay prices haven’t risen since last year and have even gone down in some areas – such as Scotland.

She added that prices “nearly always” increase as the winter goes on, but stresses that people shouldn’t panic. “There’s massive demand, but what we’re hearing from merchants is that the stock is available,” she said.

For the full story see H&H’s 29 December issue.