Livestock auctions – fit for the future?

31.01.13 Livestock auctions – fit for the future? Discussion archive

Markets have a future but some are better placed than others i.e. being 25 miles away from the nearest pig market makes pig farming an unviable. Markets are a vital part of social life for a lot of people – though most are seniors.

The modern mart has fur/feather/breed shows, local food, meeting spaces, teaching rooms, internet/biz advice centre. Farmers want to reverse in and drop the tailgate and have confidence that the Mart staff can do the rest.

Social media is used on a wide scale to promote pedigree stock prior to auction and E-auction helps where stock are far from processors.

Other comments were that markets added cost and are a risk to biosecurity and traceability.

Dealers have a place as part of a thriving competitive and transparent marketing system and more producer organisations are needed to improve collective selling power.

Auction marts commented that they display all TB status for buyers all herds & flocks provide information on vaccination & herd health for breeding & store sales.

The discussion held on Thursday 31st January 2013 looked at the topic of “Livestock auctions – fit for the future?” and generated a total of 370 tweets on the topic from 78 participants. These included farmers, agri-food businesses, rural advisors, land agents, lawyers, journalists, academics and NFU officeholders, as well as members of the general public.

Q1: How close is the livestock auction to your farm, and how often do you buy or sell livestock there?

  • Nearest market is 4 miles away but go 15 or 30 miles to better markets
  • Markets do have a place in future but some are better placed than others, facilities, modern approach etc.
  • Malton–20 miles approx. used to sell fat lambs every week but now were just arable
  • Bakewell Market is 15 miles from farm! Go every Monday but buy and sell once a month
  • York is very close by and I go there twice a week, but we have Malton ,Selby and Thirsk marts handy also
  • Our closest auction is 15 miles away, main breeding, store auctions are over an hour
  • We have a small mart within 10 miles where we sell culls, tups, butcher’s lambs and in lamb gimmers
  • Shrewsbury 10 miles about twice a month selling calves and cull cows
  • Sell all fat lambs on the hook but use markets for cull ewes, breeding ewes and rams
  • Seven miles away only sell cull cows there but buy replacements at Newark as that’s where pedigree Lincoln red sales are
  • We’re conveniently situated between 3 markets, the closest only being a mile away – buy and sell regularly
  • Leek is approx. 8 miles from us – regularly sell there (almost weekly) – mainly calves – never buy in
  • Bakewell is about 30 miles from us. Usually go to buy replacement sucklers or calves to multi suckle
  • Attend auctions, chelford, clitheroe, gisburn weekly through autumn months selling store lambs
  • Sell all our sheep over the border at Ludlow 25 miles away, go past 2 closer markets. Buy calves in Beeston

Q1b: A lot of markets have closed or amalgamated. Is there a part of the country where it is just too far to get to one?

  • Ashford market is still going strong 🙂 The oldest Ltd Company in England
  • Nearest market is now Liskeard in Cornwall, about 4 miles
  • 2 marts one 20 mile another 30 miles away don’t use either
  • Newark Market 18 miles from me use it to sell fat Cattle .Stores bought in from Mid/South Wales Markets
  • 20 mins drive is my closest
  • South Wales, best of both worlds. Marts owned by local authorities are quite robust, even small ones. Big modern marts also
  • We had 4 reasonably near now all closed we no longer buy or sell
  • Try Norfolk it’s a 200 mile round trip to any market with a decent no. of regular buyers more buyers=more transparent
  • Being 25 miles away from the nearest pig market makes pig farming an unviable option for us, haulage costs too high a price
  • I think the most important factor is the quality of service and facilities rather than the time spent getting there

Q2a Local marts are often more than just a place to trade livestock. What role does the mart have in your farming community?

  • Abergavenny Market closing, despite opposition, moving out, replaced by supermarket. Huge loss for farmers & town
  • Now livestock markets are out of town centres, they’re intimidating to community – such a shame
  • Reality check?
  • I think they are a vital part of social life for a lot of people I know, most are more senior I must admit
  • A lot of our more elderly farmers may only go out once a week to socialise and that is in the market café
  • Chat over cup of tea can do wonders. If you sell or buy something whilst socialising, great!
  • No ‘joined up’ thinking means people don’t get the relationship betw farming, markets, food, health = strong rural communities
  • A good way to get a feel for values even if you don’t buy or sell on the day
  • Growing up it was for catch ups the old boys passing on knowledge to the young a chance for farmers to breath a different air

Q2b: Competition between livestock auctions is intense. What do marts need to offer to continue to prosper?

  • Marts need to offer a tidy well run place that attracts the best possible stock & buyer, fix the pot holes & smashed roof
  • A very simple question to answer, guarantee prosperous trade so the farmers get a fair price for their products.
  • As an Ind struggling with TB the animal health side should be the focus
  • Facilities and service. You want to reverse in and drop the tailgate and have confidence that the Mart staff can do the rest
  • A good selection of reps would help. Kill two birds with one stone! Also you can’t go wrong with a good breakfast
  • Modern mart + fur/feather/breed shows, local food, meeting space, teaching rooms, internet/biz advice centre +++
  • In the age of social media, it’s really important to bring people with kindred spirits together at same place, same time?
  • For many farmers, internet can’t replace real social interaction. Evidence of benefits to wellbeing & mental health
  • Auction firms should look at the whole industry going electronic

Q3: Let’s get to business. Lamb prices have been hitting headlines. How is the current price of lamb affecting you on your farm?

  • Our latest EBLEX figures show producers are losing around £26 per lamb – biggest losses since 2006
  • The supermarket price of lamb has shifted at all i 12 months. If they dropped prices and passed it on, may find more buyers
  • I’d say about £36 down on last year & £40 on 2 years ago = less income and less confidence in job = less rams being bought
  • Am holding mine back for hoggets and using up my poor hay stock!
  • After a wet summer, spread of the Schmallenberg virus as well as dwindling lamb prices – it’s easy to lose hope
  • Lamb prices up, farmers buy ewes and spend less on rams. Lamb prices wane, keep ewes on and spend more on a tup!
  • EBLEX cattle & sheep Jan update shows downturn in lamb price & increase in imports
  • “Buy New Zealand lamb to save the planet, say UN scientists” was Mail headline on Oct 31 last year

Q4a: The perception is that auctions drive deadweight price. What other ways are there to establish base price?

  • Our local butchers prices reflect the local trade and has told his supplier he now wants his prices to follow local market
  • The lamb price situ now originated back in July, we are net exporters of high priced product in a recession
  • Can a direct link between the farm cost + profit and consumer purchase price be established (via butchers and supermarkets)?
  • Can’t help but feel it would be nearly impossible to do unless you’re supplying own shop? Even then??

Q4b: What opps does the use of technology like the internet and social media present for trading livestock?

  • We need greater engagement in accessible electronic auctions rather than relying on shrinking live
  • Social media can help relationships, see it as a tool – like the old telephone – not a substitute?
  • Social media and internet etc. is very important for trading stock it’s all about marketing the more people get to know the better
  • Electronic Auctions maybe ok but not for small farmer selling one or two a week
  • Suspect access to broadband would be an issue for many. Then what about the miles of travelling to look at them “in the flesh”?
  • Social media used on wide scale to promote pedigree stock prior to auction. E-auction helps where stock far from processors
  • Industry can really improve by embracing new technology however trading livestock is a hands on business
  • Grade animals by weight/condition (electronic) and let demand side call them forward (min no.) as required?
  • It helps if you look forward 5 years. Time, disease, cost viable unit size should shape the thought process

Q5: Livestock dealers are a big part of the livestock sector. Are they a help or a hindrance and why?

  • A help, bundle demand and supply. also, buffer risk and from time to time – earn money
  • They add cost. If I could access an auction online I would not need them
  • Livestock dealers a hindrance, too few buyers with too many accounts
  • Dealers are of benefit provided they don’t act as a cartel and work with you
  • Most livestock dealers will ensure best price for farmers; however is this middle man making UK lamb unnecessarily dearer?
  • If you think a dealer is a hindrance try to deal with him in a ‘collection centre’ when your mart has closed
  • Dealers provide a great service and help put a strong base in the trade of almost all the livestock sectors
  • They add cost, are a significant risk 2 biosecurity, traceability & r biggest offenders when comes 2 abusing 6 day rule
  • Dealers have a place as part of a thriving competitive and transparent marketing system, less competition = lower price
  • Markets are too stressful for the animals especially when they walk round ringing a bloody great bell

Q6: Traceability, biosecurity and disease risk are all important. What information does your auction provide and is it enough?

  • Markets are great at traceability & bio security in my experiences. Farmers though still seem to struggle filling in licence
  • History of TB status should be clearly presented to possible buyers, thus increasing buyer confidence.
  • We should look to ensure we have strong auction system but make it electronic. There is no need to gather stock live
  • Supermarkets ask for this farm assurance and that but still buy the other stuff, just a lot cheaper. How traceable is horse?
  • Bio security can be more readily monitored at the mart than anywhere else
  • Disease risk is also easily monitored at a Mart, easier than e selling or collection centres
  • We display all TB status for buyers all herds & flocks provide info on vaccination & herd health for breeding & store sales
  • Livestock markets provide an avoidable unnecessary risk. Nose to nose contact of cattle no TB control credibility
  • Auctions are watched by trading standard for bio security and disease. They are safe places to visit.

Q7: What ways are there in other sectors to market produce effectively? Could a PO like in horticulture work?

  • PO could work if all like-minded but professional traders and auction houses best placed to provide new systems
  • Member of a PO one fieldsman one market specialist 47 farmers working together for joint benefit. Should be possible
  • Producer Organisations are across the EU in horticulture…and there are opportunities in CAP reform. Probably needs attention
  • We should challenge ourselves to aspire to pig a poultry standards and apply HACCP to improve disease control.
  • Definitely worth the industry considering use of producer organisations to improve collective selling power
  • Producer Organisations (PO’s) encourage collaboration and cooperation. Sadly lacking in many sectors of food prod

Q8: Dedicated farmer supply groups to supermarkets are big in the dairy industry. Could this help the lamb sector?

  • Dairy farmers and sheep farmers are very different beasts!
  • I think the point about Welsh lamb hits the nail on the head. Hard marketing with a story works
  • We should be looking also at how the industry needs to serve its customers competitively and willing to change
  • With the right processes and contract terms (in detail and spirit) it could, couldn’t it..?
  • Marketing an education. Explaining to customers that lamb doesn’t stop at 7 or 8 months old, support all year round UK meat
  • Cannot think how “dedicated farmer supply groups to supermarkets” helped #sosdairy, why do we want #soslamb next?
  • Retailers need farmers and like dedicated groups. Why not band together to do a deal on YOUR terms with YOUR story?
  • Unless you are big enough to play supermarkets off against each other or have more than 1 contract you are exposed
  • Dedicated supply groups have not helped the whole dairy industry just the few
  • The horseburger incident does offer a chance to push dedicated full chain supply

Simon Haley, Reading Agricultural Consultants, and Alan Spedding, 4 February 2013

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