Farmers Guardian Cross Border Trading

16th August 2011

This month, David Pritchard, Operations Director at auctioneers Harrison & Hetherington looks at current trends in livestock prices in the run up to the North West's main livestock sales and the challenges of cross border trading faced by farmers in the region.

As we approach the main autumn sales of breeding stock and with supplies of livestock tightening, from August, we expect to see strong trading with prices for cattle and sheep both showing an upward trend. We are involved in sales from our main mart at Borderway in Carlisle and also 6 other marts in Durham, Cumbria and Scotland. To date, across the region we have seen prime lamb prices running approximately 10% to 15% higher than last year, cast ewes are at an all time high and export conditions remain particularly favourable. This trend has reflected in the first major sales for breeding sheep recording prices well up on the year. Breeders have also seen good results for cattle sales; recently we experienced a Limousin female achieving a record breed price of 65,000gn. Higher prices have also followed through in all sectors of breeding and finished cattle.

It was very pleasing news when the UK announced recently that the country had gained Bluetongue free status, this in turn will assist in opening up the Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland export trade which has been complicated marketing since 2007.

As about a fifth of the livestock which passes through our Carlisle rings is sold into Scotland, as Livestock Auctioneers we have to be constantly aware of the different rules and regulations that apply to animal sales over the Border. Knowledge of these differences is essential for farmers and breeders if they want to maximise their opportunities for cross border trade and we would advise them to make sure they keep up to date with any changes.

The proposed system for the eradication of BVD (Bovine Viral Diarrhoea) is a case in point. From the end of the year, all dairy and beef breeding herds in Scotland will be tested on an annual basis and all Persistently Infected ("PI") infected animals will be culled. Scottish farmers have been strongly encouraged by the Scottish Government to only buy individual animals that are certified BVD free or to purchase from herds that are in an accredited free scheme.

Therefore in my opinion we need to roll out the scheme into Northern England and further a field to encourage buyer's confidence and retain Scottish interest. As auctioneers it is important that we work alongside vets to encourage sellers in England to adopt this policy by testing and vaccinating all their breeding stock. Although testing for BVD will remain voluntary but knowing the status of your stock will help to maximise returns. Recently we hosted a meeting with two of Scotland's leading experts in this disease from SAC Veterinary Services. They advised farmers who sell store and breeding stock with the aim of encouraging the market trade of livestock into Scotland and reduce the perception of disease risk.

TB requirements also differ between England and Scotland although obviously in all cases the aim is to minimise the risk of moving TB into other regions. In England, the TB testing interval is at the herd of origin, in Scotland it is the testing interval of the parish in which the herd of origin is situated that determines the eligibility for testing. English herd owners need to adhere to the rules set for pre-movement testing when moving cattle out of England and since Scotland was given TB free status additional testing is required for certain movements of cattle. Animals moving south are not subject to pre movement testing but breeders are often advised to request it. Sellers on both sides of the Border need to be aware of their clients' needs so that they maximise their sales opportunities.

In addition to this monitoring for disease, the rules for the physical tagging of animals for slaughter also differs on both sides of the Border. English farmers have the option of using a manual or an electronic tag for lambs under 12 months of age whereas in Scotland the electronic tag is compulsory. So for Scottish farmers selling into England, sales should be relatively straightforward but for sales passing the opposite way farmers have to make sure they tag animals according to their buyers' requirements

Consequently, the underlying message is for producers to ensure that they are fully informed of any differences in legislation. This means that auctioneers vets and farmers all need to work in partnership to ensure that the cross border market and animals moving from other areas of the UK works as efficiently as possible to ensure that maximum returns are achieved through the auction system.