Scott Donaldson is President of IAAS

For the last few months, IAAS members (representing every livestock auction mart in the country) have been sharing the latest news and views of members through a regular column in the Scottish Farmer. In day to day business, they are competitors, each vying for your stock to sell, but on one issue they absolutely speak with one voice. Every fortnight, they have restated the key role played by the marts in local communities, and the need for the farming community to support their local ring.

That’s why IAAS has recently launched our Use Your Mart campaign. We make no apology for the bluntness of this campaign, it is the start of a fight-back on behalf of the industry. Through the campaign we will be hammering home the importance of selling through the ring and will be taking every opportunity to communicate the benefits of supporting the marts.

It is no accident, and no secret, that the number of direct deadweight arrangements has been increasing. This has had a tangible impact on prime sheep ring, with throughput particularly affected this year. The reason for the rise is simply down to the fact direct buyers want to avoid the transparent and guaranteed service provided by the mart. They want prices to go underground - out of sight - so that they can profit.

The auction ring is by far the best way for both buyer and seller to achieve a fair and transparent price and this simple aspect of the livestock mart offer remains paramount. The network of well equipped Livestock Markets stretching across Scotland offer an efficiency that both the producer and the processor can benefit from, a critical mass of livestock, reducing journey times, catering for the smallest to the largest of customers, sorting stock in to level batches to meet individual buyers specifications. Despite this, it is facing challenges it has never faced before. The IAAS will fight tooth and nail to protect this system. More and more buyers - and more often than not those working for our major national supermarket chains - are requiring their sellers to bypass the ring and in some cases make forward, direct commitments, and in the case of prime cattle often stipulating maximum numbers of moves over the production cycle.

Our message is simple - as prices rise and fall, the price delivered in the ring is transparent and fair, representing the best deal for both sides. Any perceived selling-price advantage through direct sales will inevitably be cancelled out a hundred-fold if in the long-term competition for stock is reduced. Without competition and without a clear market price, the future will be very grim for livestock producers - that’s why it is so crucial to use your mart for the best price and the fairest deal for farmers.