Optimism for livestock marketing industry underpins European Markets Conference

25th May 2012

By Gwyn Williams, Frank Marshall and Co, Chelford Market, and current chairman of the Livestock Auctioneers Association.

LAST weekend we welcomed delegates from all over Europe to the annual conference of the European Association of Livestock Markets. It was particularly pleasing to welcome them at a time when recognition of the importance of our markets seems to be growing, judging by the outstanding throughput figures recently announced. Markets in England sold in excess of £1.8 billion worth of stock in 2011. Market turnover rose by 17.5 per cent during the year.

Greater rationalisation within the red meat processing industry, driven by the need for greater efficiencies in the food supply chain, has further shortened the list of potential purchasers for the outstanding stock produced by Britain’s farmers. All the more important, therefore, there is a strong, efficient, and competitive method by which farmers can obtain the best price for all their stock.

What other industry has a supporting marketing system which provides a professional sorting service, pulls together large numbers of potential buyers in one place, generates the best price obtainable for all their clients’ produce, top quality or otherwise, and takes all the risk out of their clients’ marketing by guaranteeing payment and assuming responsibility for the debt?

The auctioneering profession here has changed markedly over the last 20 years. Many auction companies have invested millions in state-of-the-art facilities, with welfare-friendly handling and sorting facilities, computerised accounting and invoicing, electronic weighing and animal identification; several other companies are currently looking at major investment programmes.

In addition, a huge amount of time has been spent on training. Welfare and disease recognition have formed the bulk of the training courses provided for market staff for some years. Ten years ago this year, the LAA, in conjunction with its Scottish counterparts, the IAAS, commenced discussions which led to the introduction of business management training courses for the next generation of auction managers.

In constantly seeking to improve the service we provide, we are currently looking at ways in which better quality information can be provided to both potential purchasers, and vendors, of stock offered for sale in our markets. Sadly, Britain has lagged behind much of Europe in the provision of technology within the livestock sector. The auctioneering profession often feels stuck between a rock and a hard place; facing calls to provide more information, but facing resistance from sectors of the industry when we call for support for the introduction of better technology to allow us to do just that.

There is no question a ‘onetouch’ access to a database which integrates all the information required by law each time an animal moves would be highly desirable. Many of our European neighbours have had such systems for years – in fact, a central database of any sort for recording the millions of sheep movements recorded by markets would be very useful.

The importance of Britain’s livestock markets to the wider rural economy cannot be underestimated; the figures recently published underline that. It is in the current spirit of guarded optimism for the future of our livestock industry, and our livestock marketing industry, that we welcomed our guests to Cumbria last weekend, where we hope they enjoyed the wonderful hospitality the Cumbrian region provided on behalf of market operators throughout England.