Livestock sold through Scotland’s auction marts fetched £482.5 million last year, official figures show.
Statistics compiled by the Institute of Auctioneers and Appraisers in Scotland (IAAS) reveal that almost 2.7 million head of livestock were sold by auctioneering firms in 2019.
Total sale numbers were up by just over 112,000 on the previous year, recognising the vital role marts and their professionals play in achieving fair value for farmers.
Yet while physical totals have risen compared to 2018, the average prices achieved dropped by 8.1%, reflecting the fall in general commodity prices during the year as well as the uncertainty for marketing surrounding Brexit. However, there is no doubt that the livestock auction system has been challenged, especially in the prime sheep sector, by those supermarket suppliers who would rather avoid competition and seek price control through direct sourcing.
IAAS, the trade body which represents all auction mart companies operating in Scotland, is the only organisation which gathers the statistics, based on submissions from its membership.
They show that the number of store stock sold through rings was down by 0.82% at just under 1.2 million. Those animals achieved values totalling £314.1 million, a fall of about 5.9% on the previous 12 months.
Levels of stock sold for slaughter by marts rose by 8.7% to 1.5 million, reflecting the desire from farm owners and managers to achieve a fair and transparent price for their finished stock, which can only be achieved by using the live ring. Their values were almost unchanged on the year at £168.4 million.
Publication of the figures highlights the transparency of the auction mart system in realising fair and competitive real-time pricing with guaranteed payment, a message championed by IAAS.
IAAS President Scott Donaldson said: “Scotland’s auction marts and auctioneers are working harder than ever to achieve the best possible prices for our farmers at a time when they have never needed that more – and they’re doing that in the face of significant challenges facing the wider rural economy.
“There are some positive trends in the numbers, but they also reflect the financial reality of some of the issues faced, with the trade for beef producers particularly challenging.
“The picture for lamb trade was more positive throughout 2019, but everyone’s watching anxiously to see how Brexit may affect that because we can ill afford any slump.
“The worth of animals sold is a powerful reminder of the economic importance of our marts. The increase in the number of animals going through our rings highlights the value farmers place on the system. It has never been more important for the entire supply chain to embrace the auction system to keep trade vibrant and successful, highlighting the superb standards of Scotch-assured red meat.”
The Institute is working on a number of fronts to support a strong and sustainable livestock sector, championing the benefits of red meat and the need to ensure the industry is equipped to meet consumer demand, balanced with the need for the entire agricultural industry to tackle climate change.
Neil Wilson, IAAS Executive Director, said: “Our marts are vital to securing the strongest possible future for our communities and are continually evolving to ensure they remain the most competitive place to buy and sell, delivering strong results for farmers.
“Negotiating power in the supply chain must not be lost and the figures for 2019 remind us of this. That’s why we caution against fixed contracts which can be inflexible, negatively impacting on market price and competitiveness. Short-term solutions may not provide long term answers for agricultural enterprises. The live ring remains the most transparent and competitive way to sell all livestock.”
The figures in focus: