Livestock markets going through transformation process

4th September 2013

Livestock markets in England and Wales are undergoing an unprecedented period of regeneration and modernisation, according to the Livestock Auctioneers Association.

LAA Executive Secretary Chris Dodds said the industry was in a process of transformation that was seeing premises modernised and upgraded, business merging and expanding and new areas of business being added to the mix.

"Livestock markets have played an important role in agriculture and the countryside since the first market opened in the Scottish borders in 1817, but with this there has been a perception that they have not moved with the times in terms of serving farming and the food chain industries. If you look at the amount of regeneration activity in the past two decades you can see this is far from the case.

"In the last ten years we have seen developments or relocations at Cockermouth, Thirsk, Rugby (Stoneleigh Park) and Cirencester, and more recently at Kendal, Hereford, Wigton, Sedgemoor and Welshpool. Abergavenny, Holsworthy and Thrapston are in the process of being re-located, and Chelford, Beeston Castle, Darlington and Barnard Castle have upgrade plans in the pipeline".

John Hughes, Manager of NWA Property and Professional, which is the land agency division of the L & K Group which was created in 2005 from the merger of Lancaster Farmers Auction Mart and Kendal and District Auction Mart. The company offers land agency, farm advisory and stewardship matters, as well as livestock sales. It is a full rural services company which is designed as a one-stop shop.

Lancaster was one of the early "out of town" markets and still operates successfully, but Kendal was still in the town centre and was dated both structurally and the way it met modern welfare requirements.

Mr Hughes said farmers had less time to spend in the marts because of the demands on their time and businesses, so it was a case of finding ways to improve services and attract them back to the markets.

"Our previous location in Kendal was in the town centre and this was difficult in terms of access and for both buyers and vendors, so we started looking for a re-location.

"We found an ideal site at Junction 36 of the M6. The J36 Rural Auction Centre is now a showpiece offering up-to-date facilities in a prime location, and the business is expanding as well, if not better, than was envisaged.

Other premises were built on the site and these are currently leased out to veterinary surgeons, accountants, solicitors, feed companies, a tyre service, animal health suppliers, and the Scottish Agricultural College.

Mr Hughes added: "It is still work in progress. We started in February 2013 and we have seen an increase in livestock and other aspects of the business. The location is probably the key to doing what we do. Buyers from the north come down from Scotland and they might just want to stop here to fill up their wagon. The site is purpose built to take into account all aspects of welfare and health and meet the standards that are required, and allow for electronic tagging and so on.

"As an industry we have to adapt all the time to meet the needs of farming. Things move so much more quickly these days. Our farmer customers need to concentrate on farming, and we are here to help them with other parts of the business. We are seeing some smaller producers selling through the store markets, but equally some of the big finishers looking to meet the requirement to source the number and quality from the markets," he said.

"We had a very lean time after foot and mouth, but in the last 3 or 4 years our profitability has improved. We are finding that we can reinvest, and we firmly believe these investments will pay off for some time in the future."

In April next year, two of the north west's most prominent auctioneers, Frank Marshall and Wright Manley, are to merge.

Gwyn Williams, Chelford-based partner at Frank Marshall LLP, said: "Markets are a major contributor to the rural economy. They provide an important link between farmers, butchers and the consumer. It's important to recognise that those butchers and wholesalers who buy out of the markets are able to give the full provenance and traceability of all their stock.

"Modern market facilities are hygiene friendly, and staff are fully trained in welfare and handling. The markets themselves are an intrinsic part of the rural economy, and represent the best of our rural traditions, as well as providing a fully transparent and, most importantly, competitive pricing mechanism."