By Peter Crichton

THE sudden news of the impending closure of Midland Marts Banbury market underlines further downward pressure on the live auction system. The announcement comes hard on the heels of Tescos recent decision to drop all procurement via live auctions.

Although the auction ring is now only believed to account for only about 5% of finished pig sales, Banbury was a major outlet for pigs. Many sellers had remained loyal to the auction system, arguing that it provided a readily-available price barometer for the industry as a whole.

Some “triple” deadweight price contracts – which are based on a basket of pig prices – include auction returns despite the small sample included. And farmers fear that the loss of major pig markets such as Banbury is one more step towards an industry controlled by few major players with ultimately less competition for the product.

Auctioneers claim that their system of selling also provides the producer with instant and safe payment. And those pig producers who switch to deadweight selling after Banbury closes will see their cash flow go into reverse for about three weeks because that is the length of time most abattoirs now take to pay.

Industry sources fear that the steady decline in throughput at most pig auctions and the loss of farm-assured status for any pig sold in this way will hasten the end for other UK pig auction markets.

Cull sows are also sold in significant numbers via auctions and many producers claim they are able to obtain better prices especially for plain “feeding” sows. These are usually bought for further fattening on waste or by products and provide the industry with a ready outlet for sows in this category.

On welfare grounds the live auction is now hard to justify with animal rights campaigners claiming that double unloading/loading and the lack of water and other facilities adds to stress levels and creates unnecessary suffering.

For all the faults of the system many pig producers will feel sadness at the loss of this outlet at Banbury especially as this was one of the largest pig auctions in the country.

Each week Midland Marts claim to handle around 1,000 to 1,500 finished pigs, 150 to 250 sows and boars and 200 to 400 store pigs. The fact that an auction of this size faces closure does not bode well for smaller operators, say regular buyers and sellers.

  • End of an era as Banbury market is forced to close, FWi, yesterday (28 May) &#151 Click here
  • Tesco restates plan to drop live auctions, FWi, 22 May — Click here
  • Peter Crichton is a Suffolk-based pig farmer offering independent valuation and consultancy services to the UK pig industry