5 February 1999

Rent hike threat to historic mart future

SURREY is on the brink of losing its last livestock market, as Guildfords future hangs in the balance.

Operator South East Marts fears the annual rent at the current 2.5ha (6 acre) site could rocket from the present figure of less than £1215ha (£3000/acre) to more than £28,300ha (£70,000/acre). "No livestock market in the country can afford to pay industrial rents," says managing director Chris Sykes.

If the 2300% rent increase is forced through, the market will have to move – or close its doors, ending a 723-year tradition in the town. However, the town council has already refused permission to relocate, though it was due to reconsider as FW went to press on Wednesday.

Supporters of the mart were gathering to voice their concerns. "Ill be attending to make a show of strength with farmers," said NFU south east policy advisor William White. He dubbed it "an absolute must" for the regions producers to have a liveweight selling option. "Its disappearance would be another nail in the coffin of competition in the sector."

South East Marts has been hit by a drop in commissions in the face of lower cattle and sheep values, with the firms latest published accounts showing an after-tax profit of £32,000 on a £36.5m turnover in the year to Dec 31, 1997.

Disappearance of the auction would deal another blow to a system reeling from a spate of recent closures, including Bury St Edmunds in December.

This reflects the malaise in farming, says John Martin, secretary of the Livestock Auctioneers Association. Livestock – and commission levels – fell 25% to 30% in some areas last year, he says. "Inevitably there will be casualties."

But the opening of new sites, such as Ashford, Bakewell and Northampton, highlight the long-term future of the sector, he adds. &#42

Good deals on straights

FARMERS could get some good deals on straights after a Chicago-led collapse in the soya market pulled down prices.

"Soya is at an all-time low," says Andy Tucker of KW. Livestock producers are taking advantage of this to take cover through to April next year. Brazilian soya for June to October deliveries is in the £112-£120/t range.

Martin Douglas of Cargill attributes the fall – as much as £10/t in a month – to better growing conditions in South America, forecasts of larger than expected year end stocks in the US and a weaker Brazilian currency.

With soya the "barometer" crop, farmers should also be looking at other protein feeds which have followed it down.

"Even if you still feel the price can go lower, for insurance purposes you ought to be seriously looking at the market," he says. "Very few people ever buy at the bottom."

The downturn has been welcomed by farmers, including Wilts-based Peter Turner. Current levels, he says, are less than half they have been in the past.

Charles Waldron of co-op Mole Valley Farmers says prices were too high in the first place. But supplies are now coming through and values should come down as February unfolds, he suggests. &#42

Barley rates hit lowest

BARLEY intervention rates fell to their lowest level yet this week under the new market rate system which followed the introduction of the k.

A sustained weakening of the new currency against the £ saw barley worth £85.05/t delivered to store on Wednesday, before rising slightly to hit £85.30/t for Thursday deliveries.

However, this is still £2.44/t below the peak level achieved on Jan 5 and 80p/t less than old green rate value, reflecting the much greater volatility of the new system.

Free market prices came under marginal pressure as a result, with values for feed barley easing about £2-3/t on the week. Typical ex-farm prices ranged from £76-79/t, says Cargills Ian Wallis. &#42