2 August 2002

Competitive companies unite as one

By Jeremy HuntNorth-west correspondent

RIPPLES are still being felt in the north-west following last weeks announcement that Penrith Farmers & Kidds is to sell its farmstock business to Harrison & Hetherington.

Talks this week between Stuart Bell, senior sheep auctioneer with PF&K, and David Tomlinson, of H&H, have reorganised the autumn sale calendar in readiness for the H&H takeover on Sept 1, just before the main sheep breeding sale season.

Both companies have previously been fearlessly competitive over their respective autumn sheep trade, but last weeks announcement made it clear that big changes were inevitable.

Mr Bell acknowledged that the implications of the takeover in terms of possible market reorganisation had left many farmers in Cumbria "very nervous".

"This has come as a big surprise to Cumbria farmers and some are afraid that it will lead to the closure of some markets that are traditionally major centres for autumn sheep sales.

"But I want to assure farmers that our strategy is to strengthen the marketing framework. Now one company can concentrate on selling sheep instead of two companies competing for fewer numbers," said Mr Bell.

The greatest concern for breeders and buyers from the south has centred on the large sales of Mule shearlings and gimmers traditionally staged by PF&K. This years Mule sales will kick off at Kirkby Stephen on Sept 13 with about 6000 gimmer lambs, followed by 10,000 shearlings at Lazonby on Sept 18.

The famous Alston Moor sale of almost 20,000 Mule gimmer lambs will remain at Lazonby on Oct 2.

The PF&K company portfolio brings substantial commission from breeding sheep sales so a major upheaval would be unwise, but there will be a need to avoid clashes in the sales calendar. This could mean that H&H asks its regular vendors to support alternative dates at Lazonby in the Eden Valley, about 15 miles from Carlisle.

The closure of Penrithwill undoubtedly cause problems for both cattle and sheep producers. The markets traditional early autumn sale of store cattle will now be held at Kirkby Stephen, which has penningfor 1400 head.

Kirkby Stephen is 40 miles from Penrith and the extra distance may see some vendors prefer to enter cattle for Carlisles high-profile store sale in early September, but there is a risk that too many cattle could be entered and adversely affect the trade.

Worst hit by the rejig of autumn sales are hill farmers from the Lake District who had been staging breeding sheep fixtures at Penrith, a journey of over 50 miles for some, following the loss of Troutbeck market several years ago.

"We are working on ideas to overcome the problems of marketing sheep from central and southern Lake District farms," conceded Mr Bell.

But Borrowdale sheep farmer Stan Jackson said many farmers were disappointed by the closure of Penrith: "It means we have fewer opportunities to sell, but at least we now have a new market at Cockermouth which is going to be the most convenient option for many of us." &#42