View from the rostrum

Wooler Auction Mart
Wooler Auction Mart

The start of the new year has been a turbulent one in terms of weather, but at Harrison and Hetherington it has been a good first month of 2016 for numbers of livestock sold through the marts.

The prime sheep trade has improved, rising six per cent since the beginning of December, but values remain eight per cent less than at the same time last year.

Even though the numbers have been good, home-bred lambs will start to run out, but the trade will have to rise considerably to allow store hogg feeders to enter the market.

The confidence in the store cattle market has steadied over the last month as deadweight returns have continued to fall by almost seven per cent in the last few months.

As a result of this, we have seen early store cattle sales at all of the Harrison and Hetherington marts – Carlisle, Lockerbie, Kirkby Stephen, St Boswells and Wooler – experiencing a strong demand, although the values have been in the region of 10 per cent less than January 2015.

A major influence on the values has been without doubt the pressure on cash flow as producers anticipate a delay in basic payment scheme handouts, with many still wondering when they will receive them, and, in addition, the end product-finished cattle sector has also dropped over the last few months.

Following the decline of the national suckler cow herd, there is still a real concern from farmers about the short supply of breeding cattle available on the market, which, in turn, is keeping prices of suckler cow and calf replacements very keen. Due to this supply and demand and prices remaining very good, producers are finding it very difficult to find their preferred replacement, particularly at the top end.

However, having said that, the production of breeding heifers is a long and expensive process.

The recent onslaught of storms and flooding all over Northumberland, the Scottish Borders, Cumbria, and Dumfries and Galloway has added to the pressure on livestock producers, with farmers’ attention focused on waterlogged arable and grazing land, and properties damaged within their farming businesses.

As we entered 2016, we couldn’t help but reflect on the previous year for the company.

With the acquisition of the well-respected John Swan and Sons in the latter part of the year, we have been able to expand our geographical reach and we are, for the first time, starting to see the results of the investment in the Scottish Borders, as well as Northumberland.

The combination of our new marts with Harrison and Hetherington’s existing operation has meant the creation of the largest livestock auction mart business in the UK.

On a personal note, the beginning of the year has brought me the satisfaction of successfully passing and completing my four-year livestock market operations and management course at Harper Adams University in Shropshire, supported by the Institute of Auctioneers in Scotland and Livestock Auctioneers’ Association.

Three of my colleagues also achieved this accolade.

I am looking forward to the challenge of my position as prime sheep auctioneer in St Boswells and supporting auctioneer at Wooler and Carlisle.

 Adam Grieve is an auctioneer at Harrison and Hetherington’s 
St Boswells, Wooler and Carlisle auction marts.