Marts the Heart New Auctioneer of the Year 2015

17th November 2015

North West Auctions' livestock auctioneer and trainee land agent Ian Atkinson has been named as Farmers Guardian's Marts the Heart New Auctioneer of the Year 2015. But his job involves a lot more than just selling sheep and cattle - we take a behind the scenes look at what he gets up to.

For young livestock auctioneer and trainee land agent Ian Atkinson no two days are ever quite the same.

The 25-year-old may only be a few years into his career at North West Auctions in Lancaster but he's more than getting to grips with the varied workload.

Typically he will spend a few hours every day in the rostrum enjoying the cut and thrust of orchestrating a lively sale.

But the rest of the time he can be involved in anything from advising on future farm planning and undertaking valuations through to resolving disputes and settling compensation claims.

There's also regular farm visits, numerous telephone calls to buyers and sellers and drafting post-sale reports - not to mention training for his ongoing professional qualifications.

"Nothing can beat the thrill of a good sale - but one of the joys of the job is the variety," Mr Atkinson said.

"A typical day will start between 6.30am and 8.30am when I'll prepare the animals for market - weighing and sorting prime sheep for example, or booking in the cattle to make sure that all ID tags and passports tally with our records. That way we track movements and there's 100% traceability.

"Then it's on to the market ring where I'll spend a couple of hours in the rostrum conducting the sale. Once that's done I then sort out any problems or misunderstandings that may have arisen during the auction. It doesn't happen very often but it's an important part of the job - and that's where a good relationship with the vendor or buyer can be crucial.

"Then it's back into the office to write the market reports which we send to newspapers and publish in our newsletter and on our website. We like to be as detailed as possible because the farmers who weren't at the sale can then get a rough idea of how their livestock performed.

"The rest of the afternoon is spent either visiting farms, on the telephone with buyers and sellers or I might do some land agency work. That could be anything from trying to sort out compensation through to valuations or providing farm planning advice. I also check that everything is up to date in our sale catalogues. It just depends what needs to be done.

"An important service we offer is helping with on farm stock selection prior to sale. I increasingly find myself offering advice before a producer brings his animals to market, as to which stock is ready for sale and why. This can include handling and selecting prime sheep, or advising on which store cattle will sell best at different times of the year."

On a day when there's no livestock to be sold Mr Atkinson will auction farm machinery or help with farm to farm sales. There's also the occasional Saturday or evening sale - some of which can last until midnight. He also regularly visits other auction marts to keep an eye on market trends and to see who is buying what.

"I also spend a bit of time tying up any loose ends from recent sales and dealing with any problems that might have arisen - for example chasing up the odd farmer who hasn't paid, but that's usually just a case of getting on the phone," he said.

Mr Atkinson first visited auction marts with his father, who keeps 700 Swaledale ewes and beef cattle at their family farm in Scorton, between Lancaster and Preston, which has also diversified with a touring caravan park and fishing lake.

He knew from an early age that he wanted to be an auctioneer and in 2009 started studying Rural Enterprise and Land Management at Harper Adams University.

As part of the course he began a placement at North West Auctions and was offered a full time position in 2013.

Despite his already hectic workload Mr Atkinson's training hasn't stopped - he's currently in his first year of a Livestock Market Operations and Management course at Harper Adams, which is affiliated to the Livestock Auctioneers Association (LAA), while he is also studying to become a qualified chartered surveyor with the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, as well as a fellow of the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers.

"It's very busy but I enjoy it immensely," he said. "Being a farmer's son and knowing a lot of farmers in the local area has been invaluable. You need to be approachable and knowledgeable so that your customers have confidence in what you say and do.

"Building and maintaining relationships is vital - that's why I spend so much time on the phone or visiting farms. That's the best way to check the quality of the stock and to get a real sense for what the vendor is hoping for. It also helps when I get back into the office because I can advise potential buyers accordingly."

Commenting on the Marts the Heart award Mr Atkinson added: "To win a national competition like this against some extremely talented and gifted auctioneers is a very proud moment in my career. I must thank the people who have supported me over the years and look forward to working within the agricultural and auctioneering sector for many years to come."