Mark Richardson sees positive signs.
These welcomed last few days of more spring like conditions, following the Arctic freeze we experienced only a week ago, mirrors the recent ups and downs that the livestock industry has been facing.
Fortunately, the trading environment for livestock post-Brexit started off much better than anticipated, despite the of ongoing Covid-19 measures the marts and farmers are having to work around.
I believe one positive thing to take forward from this pandemic from both a business and social level is the wider realisation of the importance of the livestock markets.
That is particularly true here in the north of England, as we still have local markets which means farmers do not have to travel miles to sell their stock live.
Another highlight, as welcome as the recent milder weather, has been the fact that markets have flourished throughout the pandemic.
This is partly due to an increased number of people choosing to source their food locally.
High street outlets, butchers, and farm shop wholesalers alike have experienced increased demand from their customers, resulting in more of their prime stock being sourced from live markets.
This has driven demand and competition, benefiting the auction marts and leaving the live ring with a strong prime cattle and prime sheep trade.
This has been no more so apparent than on our Tuesday evening prime sheep sales at Kirkby Stephen, at which we receive regular weekly entries of 3,000-5,000 prime sheep.
Values are reaching 40-60 pence more per kilo, and £15–£25 per head more than the corresponding weeks in 2020.
In the week I am writing this column, Tuesday’s sale saw 3,022 prime hoggs sold to an SQQ average of 284 pence per kilo (up 44 pence on the year) and an overall average of 273 pence per kilo (up 40 pence per kilo) for 555 more hoggs sold compared to the same week last year, which included more than 1,100 in the heavy and overweight category and more than 1,000 horned and Mule hoggs.
Topping the market was a pair of 43kg Beltex cross hogs sold for £178, with another pair of 38kg hoggs making £176 and 463.2p/kg.
All the negative talk pre-Brexit made these current trends seem unachievable. However, the outcome so far can only be deemed as simply positive.
This has also had a knock-on effect to both store cattle and sheep values, with both store lamb and beef cattle realising record values recently.
As finishers look to source numbers of store stock and capitalise on strong prime returns, we are seeing plenty of buyers at all our centres.
At our opening sale of store cattle at Kirkby Stephen in January, store heifers averaged £1,156.49 (up £150.45 on the previous year) and steers averaged £1,120 (up £106.50 on the year).
A top price of £3,000 was realised for a nine-month old British Blue heifer.
A decline in sucker cow numbers has helped drive this trade, as well as prime cattle finishers travelling further to secure good quality beef bred stores.
This level of trade is a necessity if we want the suckler beef cow to remain sustainable, and breeders to continue producing beef calves going forward.
The importance of livestock markets has been revealed, not only for their true value as transparent and competitive price setters, but as an essential social gathering point.
Rural communities who have been deprived of the hustle and bustle and the uplifting atmosphere of the marts for the last year will greatly look forward to some sort of return to normality, hopefully in the not too distant future.
Speaking on behalf of Harrison & Hetherington and the Livestock Auctioneers Association (LAA), I am sure we all agree the LAA executive secretary Chris Dodds should be commended for his success in working on our behalf to keep the livestock markets open throughout these adverse and unprecedented times.
We also owe our appreciation to all our staff who keep this vital trade turning over and, of course, to all the farmers who have continued to support us, for who we always endeavour to work for to the best of our abilities.