Scotland’s auctioneers say they are drawing on the biosecurity experience gained during the foot and mouth crisis to keep sales rings open and trade moving during the coronavirus pandemic.
Strict distancing measures were implemented this week by IAAS, the representative body for livestock marts and auctioneers, in order to maintain the throughput of stock and provide cash flows for farmers.
However, while sales are running as efficiently as possible given the restrictions, trade for last season’s lambs has taken a severe hit, with prices back by almost a third in a week.
At Caledonian Marts in Stirling on Tuesday, average prime hogg prices were back 29% to 171.1p per kg; prime hogg prices at United Auctions in Stirling were also back 28% on Thursday to average 170.46p per kg; and old season lamb prices at Aberdeen and Northern Marts’ Thainstone Centre, Inverurie, on Thursday were back 27% on the week to 164.5p per kg.
The collapse in the restaurant and catering trade together with a decline in exports is being blamed for the fall.
“The shutdown is having a really damaging impact on the sheep trade now,” said National Sheep Association chief executive, Phil Stocker.
“The trade collapsed at the start of this week with prices down by £1 per kg liveweight – on a 45kg lamb that’s between £40 and £50 a head less, on a value that was maybe just over the £100 mark.”
Mr Stocker said he had made the government aware of the issue and added: “While this has all been brought about by Covid-19, there couldn’t be a starker warning of the impact of sudden disruption to our export markets and it raises the spectre of Brexit and the dangers that lie at the end of this year’s transition period.”
Cattle trade has fared better this week. At Caledonian Marts, Stirling, about 170 cattle – more than 100 prime and 60 OTM – went through the ring and managing director John Kyle said trade there was in line with levels seen a fortnight ago.
He added: “During foot and mouth, auction marts were brought to a halt and farmers had to sell privately off the farms, sometimes just getting one offer and taking it.
“The difference here is that we have managed to stay open and keep competition there. That’s what we need. It keeps the live sales going, which is important for food supplies, as well as farmers, at this critical time.”
IAAS executive director Neil Wilson said there had been praise from the farming industry for the steps taken by marts.
“We have worked hard to secure a workable solution so that we limit exposure to Covid-19 while also maintaining trade in the live ring, which is vital for farmers, the food chain and wider rural economy,” he said.
“We remain in close contact with the Scottish Government about the measures which have been implemented.”
The new guidelines limit the number of people attending marts and sets down the controls needed to ensure ringside buyers are at least two metres apart.
Buyers must also sign in and out of sites, and access is controlled to offices.
Sellers or hauliers must drop off stock for sale and then leave without going beyond designated loading and unloading areas.
They are not allowed inside the marts to see their livestock sold, and there is a clear message that anyone over the age of 70 should not attend sales.
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