24 March 2000

Primestock co-op will hit Welsh marts, claim auctioneers

By Robert Davies

CREATING a new primestock co-op will force most of the markets in Wales to close, claim livestock auctioneers.

Members of the Welsh Live-stock Auctioneers Association tackled supporters of the proposed co-op at a seminar in Aberystwyth.

Representatives of the Meat and Livestock Commission, the farming unions, the Welsh co-operative movement and the National Assembly – who were given the chance to explain why they backed the plan – were all castigated and warned that they were jeopardising the auction system.

John Jones of Welshpool Livestock Sales said fixed costs were too high for markets to survive if finished stock were creamed off by a successful co-op. Without competition between auction buyers and the activity of Farmers Ferry, lamb prices would have been 30p/kg lower last autumn, as supermarket buyers had predicted.

John Brereton of Jones Peckover said a system which had served livestock farmers so well would collapse "like a pack of cards" if the Welsh Assembly subsidised the creation of a co-operative primestock procurement organisation.

"We thrive on competition but cannot survive if a competitor is getting public funding," he claimed. "Ask yourselves if it is worth supporting the co-op if it wrecks the auction system."

Dyfrig Seincyn of Farmers Marts complained that the feasibility study into the co-op plan had never been published in full, and was fundamentally flawed anyway.

The meeting heard it was likely, though not absolutely certain, that the initiatives backers would publish a prospectus in April. This would give farmers and other co-op organisations the chance to invest.

Hugh Richards, president of NFU Cymru-Wales, insisted that the union wanted a range of competing marketing options in place to enhance the chances of producers getting good prices.

Huw Thomas, the MLCs Wales manager, insisted that the co-op idea came from the Welsh Offices red meat working group, which included auctioneers. It was designed to let farmers add value to their stock, exploit branding and tap into EU funds before others did.

While Don Thomas, general manager of the Welsh Agricultural Organisation Society, agreed that a competitive auction system was, in theory, the best way of setting prices, the reducing number of buyers and the use of multiple accounts meant it was not always the best in practice. &#42