Panic buying sends feed prices soaring

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The Independent Online
The drought has sent the price of hay soaring, and now horse owners and stables all over England face a winter of discontent eking out stocks and searching for affordable feed, writes Nicholas Schoon.

The last hay cut of the summer is usually made in July, but this year the absence of rain has meant there was little or no grass to cut. What little was harvested has to last through until next year's growth.

As a result the price of a bale has doubled - or even trebled - to more than pounds 6, partly due to panic buying.

Hay, not usually traded over long distances, is being brought to the worst affected areas in the South and East of England from the West Country and Scotland.

Jimmy Hunter, who farms near Berkhampstead in Hertfordshire and grows his own hay for his dairy cattle and local horse owners, has had to tell his customers that he will have no hay to supply them through the winter.

"The horsey people are now the biggest consumers of hay, and they are the hardest hit," he said. One customer, Gilly Luff, is hoping to secure a stock of 200 bales this weekend for the five horses she looks after - at pounds 4 a bale, and she will have to collect it herself. "That's twice what I was paying this time last year, and that was for top-quality hay which was delivered here," she said.

Cattle are fed largely from silage, made from grass cut while it is still moist, and this year's production has also been greatly reduced by the drought. Mr Hunter predicts that prices of alternative feed stuffs, such as sugar beet, will rise through the winter.