Most farmers who limped,
BSE-battered, through 1996
thought 1997 could not
possibly be any worse. But
they were wrong. It was a
year when prosperity fell in
just about every sector. But
it was not all doom and
gloom… Here, in the first of
two articles, FW remembers
the years key events from
the auctioneers rostrum
Cold weather – but there is not much of a trade for hay and straw, as ample supplies and lower livestock numbers take their toll. Ewes with lambs are making more than £50 a life, while manufacturing demand helps take cull ewe values to over £100. And that is something a lot of auctioneers have never seen before. Meanwhile the Intervention Board abandons its attempt to ban livestock marts holding auctions of over 30-month-old cattle, while also acting as collection centres for the BSE cull.
A capacity crowd at Perth Bull Sales sees bidding for Aberdeen Angus stock rise to 11,000gns and average £3385. Growing interest in the breed marketing schemes is a factor. Farmer Phil Hook is among the members of the Hailsham Market Action Group marching on the House of Lords as part of their fight against the closure of the Sussex mart. Pig prices rise as news of swine fever outbreaks in Holland prompt fears of supply shortage. And a German buyer pays the top price for a female at the spring show and sale of Galloways at Castle Douglas – even though the on-going export ban means the 3200gns heifer has to stay in the UK.
Concern is widespread among farmers at the impact of the BSE selective cull. It is now a year on from Stephen Dorrells infamous remarks about a probable link between BSE and CJD, yet beef prices are below 100p/kg lw. At Exeter, the entry of new-season lambs outnumbers hoggets for the first time in the year. This is a month for Easter lamb shows, at which the best are making more than 200p/kg lw. Exporters looking to send lambs to northern Europe, however, are finding the going tough in the face of the strong £ sterling. Greenslade Hunt hold the countrys first auction of forward-leasing milk quota, where values average 11.1p/litre.
Values of grass park lets in Scotland are down by a third in some cases, as the BSE crisis and falling milk prices take their toll. Farmers are bidding hard for store cattle – some say too hard in the face of the depressed finished trade. Some help for the market comes as nearly 5000t of steer beef is accepted into intervention at the months first tender. A new UK record average for Holstein Friesian cattle of £5796 is seen at the HFSs Spring Selection Sale in Lancashire. Lamb prices, meanwhile, are under pressure from New Zealand supplies.
A change of government comes – and farmers wonder what it will mean for the countryside. Those that are not too busy rushing to beat the May 15 deadline for IACS forms, that is. There is no sign of a let-up for demand for good quality dogs, with the Bala Sheepdogs Societys auction seeing a top price of 2080gns, a record for this event. Fans of the Dorset breed of sheep flocked to – yes, you guessed – Dorset for the annual sale. Livestock auctioneers, meanwhile, defend the high standards of British beef.
Show season is under way around the country. A wet one, certainly, at the Royal Highland Show, with 2in of rain falling in four days. Attendance at the event near Edinburgh was 150,000, down 10,000 on the previous year. Dairy farmers looking to buy had some top-notch stock to choose from, with the first of two sales from Peter Padfields Hayleys herd taking place, as well as an offering from the high-indexing Chadwick herd. It was the end of an era at Sturminster Newton, when the market closed its doors.
lFor the second half of the year see next weeks issue. *
Looking for a sign where prices could go… It is proving to be a year of mixed fortunes for sheep farmers.