Green shoots of spring are seen in the live auction ring

4th March 2011

It was an honour to welcome HRH Prince Charles to Cockermouth Market recently, and whilst he was visiting, to have the opportunity to further understand the benefits and workings of The Prince's Countryside Fund, which is clearly one of his commitments to supporting Britain's hard pressed rural areas. The Fund is raising money from a wide range of businesses who have responded to The Prince's call to action to improve the long-term viability of the British countryside and its rural communities. The intention is to inspire other businesses and the general public to get involved and recognise the importance of the countryside to the nation's well-being and the wider British economy.

The funding raised is channelled into providing grants to projects, large and small, that are delivering the three core objectives of The Prince's Countryside Fund. These objectives focus on improving the sustainability of British farming and rural communities (targeting the areas of greatest need), reconnecting consumers with countryside issues; and supporting farming crisis charities through a dedicated emergency funding stream.

I would suggest that this Fund is one that we should all, certainly those businesses that are directly involved in the future sustainability of British farming, consider supporting directly, or indirectly.

Having just travelled from the North of England into the South West it was heartening to see the fields starting to show signs of early spring growth, I believe that we are due a good spring, especially after this winter's extreme weather. The trade for most categories of livestock, sold through the live auction system, is also showing signs of green shoots, with trade noticeably being sharper, creating an air of optimism once again amongst our customers.

Early spring store cattle sales have started with more gusto and confidence than many would have expected, but with so many suckler beef farmers seriously considering remaining in beef production every pound is needed to encourage them to stay in what is seen as a "low profit making" sector of our livestock industry. How low does production need to go before the supermarkets react by offering a truly sustainable price?

We have seen prime cattle prices slowly, but steadily firm over the past three weeks, and as supplies tighten further I think that we will see prices continue to increase to a more realistic level. Cull cows have been noticeably dearer with many markets reporting prices in excess of 150p/kilo for the best Continental cows and overall averages in excess of 100p/kilo. The value of well finished young Continental cows is nearly as good as those being achieved for commercial prime cattle.

With cull cows experiencing a sharp trade, and the milk price finally, but slowly, seeing a move in the right direction, we are starting to see a noticeable increase in the trade for newly calved dairy replacements. The two thousand pound barrier is once again achievable for good quality new calved heifers and young cows.

Prime sheep have settled into a nice trade, with prime lambs and cull ewes both seeing a strong demand, resulting in well fed and presented prime lambs having a value of between £90 and £100 per head. Once again we are seeing the best quality continental cross cull ewes reaching prices of between £100 and £130 per head, and well finished mule ewes are worth in excess of £80.

Early sales of ewes with lambs at foot are gathering momentum, with a strong demand and good prices being achieved for all categories.

Where would we all be without the open and transparent competition that live auction markets offer the industry? We all know too well the consequences of loosing this; the liquid milk and pork sectors of our industry have certainly experienced their fair share!