The essential role of the live auction system in setting trends and prices has been recognised in annual throughput figures released by the Livestock Auctioneers’ Association (LAA), which showed well over 11 million animals sold through the live sales ring in England and Wales in 2020, with turnover topping £1.8 billion.
These figures represent an increase in almost every sector over 2019 numbers, despite the challenges of Covid-19 and a drop in production numbers in some categories.
It’s an increase from 10.7 million across all species in 2019, with the latest figures including just under 10 million sheep and over a million cattle sold. It appears that farmers turned to the livestock markets to achieve the best prices for their stock.
Total cattle sales were up 30,000 year-on-year, with overall sheep sales increasing by 370,000. This is significant when Defra figures reveal a 3.7% drop in mutton and lamb production and a 15% drop in slaughter numbers for ewes and rams. Despite this, slaughter stock numbers for sheep sold through the live markets increased by almost 5% to 6.8 million.
Calf numbers rose by 10,000 to 220,000 overall, demonstrating how markets have adapted and aligned with the GB Diary Calf Strategy and continuing to be the largest viable marketplace.
In light of these figures, turnover increased by more than £260 million, taking the total to £1.8 billion. However, this must be offset against the considerable increase in staffing and operational costs, including managing and policing bio-secure sales environments. The stringent Covid-19 protocols have ensured that markets have remained open for business.
“The increased throughputs have been phenomenal, and this is in a large part due to the support, understanding and patience of our vendors and buyers, and in return, the live sales ring is delivering strong market prices,” explained LAA executive secretary Chris Dodds.
The live markets have pulled in more small and medium-sized retailers and butchers during the pandemic by ensuring that the right stock is in place. This is hoped to set the trend for the future, with marts seeing returning buyers and vendors the live sales ring. Furthermore, the markets have adopted new approaches to maintain a safe and secure environment, with timed online sales when live markets could not take place and real-time, online bidding platforms for those not able to attend.
“Providing this opportunity for live, distance-bidding is a strong add-on to the core business of our members, providing a competitive and transparent environment to achieve a true and fair price for livestock,” added Mr Dodds.
Recently appointed chairman of the LAA, Bob Mosley, concluded: “The live sales ring has demonstrated, particularly through the challenges of Covid-19, that it provides the platform to meet the demand of the retailer and consumer while achieving the true price for the vendor, and we will continue to invest in the future on behalf of the industry.”