By Stephen Walker, auctioneer and manager at Leyburn Auction Mart.
I’ve just looked back at the last feature I wrote on trade at the back end of 2013 and it was a rather gloomy affair then and here we go again.
Trade continues to be down. At the end of July at our weekly sale of cast cows and prime sheep, cows were down about 15p a kilo. Although there were a healthy number of lamb buyers, they were not very keen or enthusiastic about bidding. They were blaming problems at Calais, the strength of the pound, New Zealand lamb and plenty of other negative factors.
AHDB Beef and Lamb prices show they are at their lowest level for this time of year since 2009.
Of course it’s not all doom and gloom. Store cattle and rearing calves continue to sell well and fortunately at Leyburn we sell a good amount of these. Our recent weekly calf sales have produced numbers of 125 – 160 head with heifers topping out at £570 for a British Blue and bulls peaking at £540, again for a British Blue. Holstein bulls are regularly selling for over £200 up to £375, and averaging an incredible £160 – £180 most weeks.
Some of the early breeding sheep sales are indicating trade will be down, but there’s no surprise there. In my opinion there isn’t the money going round with plenty of arable and dairy men keeping sheep and all feeling the financial constraints.
Dairy trade is subdued, but only down 10 – 20%, which is nothing like the percentage off farmer’s monthly milk cheque. In fact you can sell a cast cow and a calf and this will go a long way towards a replacement making this equation add up better than in more lucrative times.
The question is is there a future for British farming? I believe that answer is yes. The world population is growing and they all need feeding. Of course to survive we’ll have to get more efficient and dare I say it, bigger.
People have always decried the demise of the small farm, but it’s no different in any other industry where the smaller ones disappear and the bigger ones get bigger and it’s been like that since the beginning of time.
We work in a unique industry. We supply goods for both the luxury and the basic essential market. Globally, some people never eat meat because it’s against their beliefs, it’s not available or they simply can’t afford it. Lucky people like myself can eat it every day and often do.
Things may seem a bit tough at the moment, but you farm over a lifetime and the tide will change, let us hope it’s soon. At least I’ve ended on a positive note.