As he steps down from his role, Harrison and Hetherington chief executive Brian Richardson spoke to Alex Black about the future of auction marts and why they will remain an integral part of farm business life.
Auction marts will continue to evolve and remain the hub for agricultural businesses and communities, regardless of the changes ahead for the industry.
That was the message from H&H chief executive Brian Richardson as he stepped down after 10 years in his current role.
He said when he had originally been interviewed for the job he had been asked about whether marts would continue to play such an important role in the communities.
But he believed they had managed to adapt to becoming livestock marketing organisations with their relationship with farmers helping them become a ‘hub’.
“This business has been around for more than 100 years and it will be around for another 100 years,” he said.
“We have to adapt to the internet and people selling farm to farm or straight to the abattoirs, but I think auction marts, particularly this one can become the hub for that.”
He added the social benefit of auction marts was ‘tremendously important’ with knowledge transfer, discussion from other farmers and the social element playing a big role in their appeal.
“We talk a lot about the internet. It is fairly lonely looking at a screen.”
Over the 10 years he has been in charge the business had diversified and developed the other aspects, including the land agency, estate agency and insurance arms.
“The balance sheet has become stronger.”
Looking forward, he said there was ‘a lot going for UK agriculture’ but it would need to become more efficient and adapt to changing conditions.
“We are well placed in the UK I think that in most sectors we are not particularly self-sufficient so we are well placed to feed the public,” he said.
“We have a pretty good climate most of the time to service that, the grass grows, crops grow. I think we can be pretty efficient.
“And if the farmer is successful, these sort of businesses will be successful.”
He said the mood on the floor had settled down after the initial ‘shock and awe, both good and bad’ when the Brexit vote had originally been announced and people were now looking for certainty.
“It is a long-term business, that is how the vast majority of farmers look at these things.
“And what they need is to have guidance and understand the framework that they are going to be working in and then they will adapt to it," he added.
“What we know about farmers is they are very adaptable and up for a challenge.”
A legacy Mr Richardson hoped he had left at H&H was his passion for developing staff and getting young people into the industry.
“We have encouraged it. We have given people a chance to come in,” he said.
“More recently it has been apprenticeships but before that it was sort of our own apprenticeship scheme.
“It is about them coming in the business, getting to understand it, us providing the mentoring and the training.”
He added they now had a new batch of young people coming through who he believed in 10 years’ time would be doing ‘very important things in the ring’. He also paid tribute to the older staff who supported them and helped train them.
“There are 300 people employed in this business, they are all dedicated to what they do. These businesses are seven-day-a-week businesses and the commitment to it is complete.”
He said the piece of advice he would give to the next person in the role was to be able to talk to farmers, hear what they are saying and make sure the business was providing what they want ‘without being reactionary’.
“Take a long-term view of the business but understand and have empathy of that customer base.”
Mr Richardson will take up the role of head of agriculture at Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank (CYBG) on July 1.
CYBG has also announced it has agreed to buy Virgin Money for £1.7bn to create the UK’s sixth largest bank.
Graeme Sands, head of business banking at CYBG, said: “Brian is a well-respected member of the business community and we are thrilled he will be joining the bank, heading up our UK-wide Agriculture sector team and this appointment is indicative of the way we approach sector based banking.
“The industry is going through a number of changes and we pride ourselves on the high standard of support and guidance we can give our customers to navigate these challenges and take advantage of opportunities.
“Brian brings additional insight to the role and a differing perspective - his experience and expertise in this industry is going to be invaluable in shaping how we evolve our support for farming and rural customers.”