Jennifer MacKenzie is an agricultural photo journalist with almost 30 year's experience. Operating from her base in Cumbria, Jennifer undertakes mainly industry-related freelance writing and photography.
Cumbria's Auction Marts Thrive in Post FMD
Six years on from the start of the foot and mouth epidemic which devastated Cumbria’s livestock industry, auction markets in the county are selling more cattle and sheep through the market – at a greater turnover.
|Cumbria Association of Livestock Auctioneers' secretary, front left, David Dickinson and chairman front right, Robert Addison, with left to right, Adam Day of Mitchells' Auction Company, Donald Young of Penrith and District Farmers' Mart, John Hughes of North West Auctions, Libby Bell of Hopes Auction Company, Neil McCleary of Cumberland and Dumfriesshire Farmers Mart, LAA secretary Chris Dodds, Andrew Wright of Ulverston Mart and David Crowden of Penrith and District Farmers' Mart.|
All auction marts were forced to close on Friday February 23, 2001 at the start of the crisis, only being allowed by Defra to re-open 50 weeks later under strict operating and movement restrictions, many of which continue to exist today.
All of the county’s seven auction companies, some of which date back well over 100 years and operate 17 centres both in Cumbria and adjoining counties holding sales on every working day, have survived the difficulties to increase their share of the trade.
The overwhelming support from stalwart livestock producers has resulted since 2001 in the building of a new market with another pending as well as the setting up of a new auction company.
During 2006, throughput of all markets in England and Wales was 9.85 million sheep and 2.25 million cattle representing up to 60 per cent of prime lambs and 80 per cent of all breeding sheep sold and equating to a turnover of £1.1 billion. This is despite a decline in the number of markets from 210 in 1995 to 130 today.
As a county, Cumbria has the greatest concentration of auction mart companies and it is this element of competition which has also helped them to survive.
The importance of selling in the live ring has never been more apparent than since 2001’s foot and mouth crisis when lambs sold at all time low levels which had not been seen for generations and afterwards as the markets got going, prices increased by 35 to 45 per cent.
Throughput since 2001 has increased each year highlighting that the service offered by auction marts to farmers is good and needed.
Most recent figures show that in 2006 members of Cumbria Association of Livestock Auctioneers increased both turnover and throughput of stock in its Cumbrian marts, selling a total of 1.85 million head of livestock, worth £160.5 million compared with 1.64 million head sold worth £123.7 million in 2003.
Prime cattle and prime sheep numbers sold through the ring have declined, mainly because of changes in agriculture such as declining numbers in the national beef herd and sheep flock resulting in fewer animals being finished.
Cumbria Association of Livestock
Auctioneers has warned producers of the perils of trading without
the existence of marts to set the prices.
“Some of our auction companies have been in operation for more than 130 years and are still going strong – but you only need to look at the situation the milk industry is in today with its abysmal milk prices to appreciate the importance of an open and competitive market,” said CALA’s chairman and Harrison & Hetherington auctioneer Robert Addison.
“Rather than the buyer setting the price, the auction marts create competition, and equally importantly, the proceeds of the sales are guaranteed by the auction companies,” he added.
“We can also provide feedback to the vendor – that is not only reflected in the prices they achieve but also in comment from buyers – and, if necessary, we can even follow up with how animals have done on the hook.
“In areas which have lost auction markets, the biggest problem is that there is no competition for the wholesale buyers and the competition in the county also helps the livestock producers,” said Chris Dodds, Cumbria-based secretary of the Livestock Auctioneers’ Association, the umbrella organisation for auction markets, and a freelance auctioneer.
Auction marts guarantee payments.
Trade is set by the bidders around the ring whereas other methods of sale tend to be linked to one company.
If the producer is not happy with the price, generally he can take his livestock home.
Marts provide the opportunity for producers to benchmark their own standard of livestock against others.
Marts help farmers have a sense of pride in what they produce.
The system is entirely transparent – everything is open to public scrutiny.
Auction companies provide a quality service, with high levels of biosecurity, albeit at a financial cost.
Auction companies also provide a wide range of other services to farmers from land agency to environmental advice.
Marts provide a social gathering centre and a ‘hub’ for the industry in the locality.
Comments on behalf CALA’s member companies:
Andrew Wright, manager of Ulverston Auction Mart, which dates from 1877, and secretary of the Institute of Auctioneers and Appraisers in Scotland, said: “I would urge producers to support their local live mart and maintain the competitive structure that auction marts provide.”
Adam Day, managing director of Mitchells Auction Company, Cockermouth, which goes back to 1868, said: “Mitchells’ board of directors during the middle of the FMD crisis in 2001 made a very brave decision to build the Lakeland Livestock centre at Cockermouth. Local farmers promised great support and gave it.
However, pressure on prices, particularly in the prime sector recently, has led farmers to seek other ways of marketing, even bypassing the auction altogether. This is the very time when the markets should be most supported.”
Neil McCleary, of Cumberland & Dumfriesshire Farmers’ Mart which has been auctioneering livestock, mainly cattle and sheep since 1926 with Longtown Mart growing to be the largest centre in the UK for sales of sheep with 730,000 head of livestock being sold last year, said: “The importance of the system is that the farmer can bring stock to the live auction, present them as he wants and when the hammer falls he knows what he is getting paid.”
John Hughes, livestock manager of North West Auctions, said: “The auction marts are the hub of the agricultural community in Cumbria and the merger of Kendal and Lancaster auction companies in April 2005 further strengthened this and we had great support from farmers to do it.”
Libby Bell, of Hopes Auction Co, Wigton, which
has been operating since 1897, said: “Auction markets rely fully on the goodwill of their
farmer customers and will only survive if they are well supported.
“The important message is to use the auction system, to coin a phrase – ‘use us, or lose us’. A bit of healthy competition between the auction marts in the county can only result in the best possible service being provided.
“We can’t emphasise too strongly the importance of the auction system nationally and its ability to pay the producer which is particularly important in this uncertain time.”
David Crowden, chairman of Penrith and District Farmers’ Mart which took on the running of Penrith Mart in 2002, said: “Because we saved our mart it is testament to the support in the area for the sale ring system. At the time we asked farmers to support and share the view of saving the mart and they have continued to do so.”
Cumbria Association of Livestock Auctioneers marts’ throughput and turnover figures for Carlisle, Cockermouth, Kendal, Kirkby Stephen, Lazonby, Longtown, Penrith, Ulverston and Wigton marts:
|Prime cattle/ cull cows||51,257||£18,717,629.00|
|Store, breeding, dairy cattle||88,897||£40,044,706.00|
|Prime sheep/ cull ewes||1,106,780||£45,531,003.00|
|Store & breeding sheep||385,835||£18,727,944.00|
|Prime cattle/ cull cows||55,353||£30,830,134.00|
|Store, breeding, dairy cattle||105,807||£55,238,959.00|
|Prime sheep/ cull ewes||1,265,511||£52,289,466.00|
|Store & breeding Sheep||417,380||£21,023,908.00|