Will return of auctions lift values?
By Jeremy Hunt North-west correspondent
PEDIGREE livestock could be moving through sale rings in England and Wales by early spring, but there is no guarantee that the fall of the gavel will herald a buying bonanza.
Months of private trading of pedigree beef and dairy stock – and the unprecedented numbers of dairy cattle sold as complete herds – is making it impossible for auctioneers to estimate values and likely levels of supply.
While some pundits predict the floodgates will open once DEFRA announces its auction sale protocol and sales resume, more reticent auctioneers believe they may have to "spread the net wide" to draw enough entries for their monthly pedigree dairy fixtures.
Tom Brooksbank, of auctioneers Norton and Brooksbank, believes prices for dairy stock will not reach dizzy heights when auctions resume. He envisages demand will be fired by those who have already re-stocked by buying in whole-herds.
"There are bound to be higher cull rates among entire herds that purchased for re-stocking that have had to adapt to new management systems. Those in that situation could well be back in the market in the spring to buy replacements," says Mr Brooksbank.
The company hopes its sale centre at Kirkby Thore, near Penrith, may be among the first to open. "There have been no animals through the centre for 13 months. We hope that will be in our favour when DEFRA announces the auction sale regulations," says Mr Brooksbank.
Bagshaws Meg Mellor hopes monthly sales of pedigree dairy cattle at Uttoxeter market will restart in March or April. But she is reluctant to predict prices.
"I dont think trade will be as strong as some expect. Although there will be a demand for cattle from owners of flying herds who have been deprived of their traditional source of supply, the milk price is underpinning everything at the moment.
"Some producers who were hanging on have decided that the milk price is looking too uncertain and have decided to sell. Compared with a couple of months ago this could bring more cattle to market. Its giving buyers a wider choice and a chance to strike favourable deals," she says.
Although some farmers opted to restock with complete herds, there is no doubt that the resumption of auctions will provide milk producers with the chance to cherry pick. Carlisle auctioneer Edward Brown is convinced that it will improve prices for the best pedigree black-andwhites.
"Having a few really good cows is what makes milking a herd of cattle worthwhile and I think a lot of dairy farmers will treat themselves this spring," says Mr Brown, of Harrison and Hetherington.
But he does not expect price levels to be unrealistic – even for the best. "There will be a good but sensible demand. The milk price will keep the brakes on the job while the economics of efficient milk production will hopefully ensure a strong demand for the best genetics."
Beef bull buyers will have their first chance to acquire sires through the ring at next months Perth sales where entries are only slightly down on last year – Limousin (204), Charolais (400), Simmental (168), Aberdeen Angus (136), Beef Shorthorn (30), Blonde dAquitaine (21) and Belgian Blue (12).
"This is the first major influx of stock into Scotland since last Februarys bull sales," says a spokesman for United Auctions.
"We are still finalising biosecurity measures with officials on both sides of the border but there has already been a good demand for catalogues. "We anticipate the sale will be a land mark event in the recovery process,"
March will see the return of pedigree bulls at Carlisle at the British Limousin Cattle Societys fixture. Auctioneer David Thomlinson expects an entry of about 100 and is confident that the breed societys main May event will attract more.
"A large number of beef bulls have been sold privately but there are still plenty of buyers who decided not to bring any stock on to the farm last year and they will certainly need a new stock bull this spring.
"That will probably create a lively trade for big, powerful bulls – the sort that are fit and ready to be turned out to start work straight away." *