Auctioneers must adapt to change
By John Burns
LIVESTOCK auctioneers are best placed to find the new markets that beef and sheep farmers need to survive and even prosper, an NFU official has told producers.
Les Armstrong, chairman of the NFUs HQ livestock committee told south-west livestock farmers recently that auctioneers needed to move on and adapt to todays circumstances. Not everything needed to be sold under the hammer, and there were circumstances where it was not appropriate.
Mr Armstrongs Cumbria farm was involved with a regional marketing project where auctioneers act as a procurement centre for a medium-sized abattoir serving a niche market via a small supermarket chain.
"I am supportive of livestock auctions but I have never said they have to stay as they are. There is a massive market in the retail catering sector that needs production in volume. The auction market is best placed to put the numbers together. Its not that we produce the wrong products; its we dont get the right product in the right place."
Responding to Mr Armstrongs remarks, Livestock Auctioneers Association chairman Ian Lawton said: "We must not be diverted from our core business which is where the real value to our clients lies. We would prefer a vibrant auction system continuing to provide the transparent competitive price setting.
"If Mr Armstrong has identified a magic way to increase income then well go for it. But he hasnt yet identified it. Processing and catering markets will procure their material at the lowest possible cost. Whatever system we use must be able to deal with that by offering competition."
Some auctions have already broadened the services offered to vendors and buyers outside of the sale ring.
Jeremy Eaton of Craven Cattle Markets, Skipton acts as procurement manager for the recently established Yorkshire Lamb brand scheme. "We want the livestock market to be the hub of everything, even including group buying of inputs. There is definitely a premium to be gained by sorting to higher specs or on days more convenient for processors. And we can provide them with other services such as traceability."
David Lock of Premier Livestock Auctions, Somerset, which offers electronic auctions, procurement services and sales by private treaty. He added: "Im at a loss to know what Mr Armstrong is getting at. Were already doing it." *