BREXIT was blamed for a delay in the full introduction of electronic identification systems for cattle, despite the fact that a pilot scheme is ready to go in Scotland's auction marts.

At last week's Institute of Auctioneers and Appraisers in Scotland's new-look conference, in Edinburgh, Sarah Millar, QMS' head of industry development, said that a lot of progress had been made in tweaking EID systems but that the full roll-out of the technology by January, 2020, had been halted due to Brexit talks.

The industry, though, is to press on with its 'eye on the prize,' she said. That included using 'big data' produced by EID to quantify eating quality, antibiotic use traceability and record keeping, she told conference.

Controversial, though, for some farmers, is the fact that the pilot scheme will forge ahead using an ultra high frequency tag set up. While it is deemed ideal for mart data collection, it is less suitable for on-farm work as it can read tags from some distance away – meaning they may be in the farmer's pocket or cupboard and not actually in a beast.

Andrew Moxey, who is helping to co-ordinate the pilot scheme along with QMS, said it was possible to 'dial back' the equipment to a more local reading aspect, while Douglas Bell, QMS' head of industry engagement, said he hoped that both UHF and low frequency emitting tags could be used together, acknowledging producers' concerns for on-farm use.

Another conference speaker, John Fyall – himself an IAAS member – made the case for auction marts being acknowledged more for providing price competition for sheep, adding that a total reliance on deadweight selling would lower prices. "After all, a lot of deadweight prices are based on live selling rates," he pointed out.

"Also, we should not forget that a lot of marts in more remote areas, like the Western Isles, are actually very useful collection centres and the diversity of stock is useful for a lot of buyers. It's not a one size fits all industry – there's room for all types."

He also said that the auctioneers' role was underestimated by the industry, but that it also had some lessons to learn, including embracing new ways of selling and the use of 'big data'.

At a panel session, NFUS vice-president Charlie Adams, addressed the question of the rise in veganism. "We're using up too much energy fighting people who don't want to eat meat. I'd rather we concentrated on selling to people who do want to eat it. Vegans just won't be persuaded otherwise, so why waste the energy?"


AUCTIONEERS chief, Scott Donaldson, took a swipe at how Scotland's meat promotion body, QMS, had missed a trick by 'not engaging' with the livestock auction system.

Re-elected for another terms as its president, Mr Donaldson said: "We can do a lot of good for the promotion of Scottish produce by having a better dialogue with QMS. If you read any of the literature from QMS, I can't remember seeing anything about livestock marts, yet we're all part of the same industry.

"We're missing a trick by not speaking to each other. But they don't seem to appreciate what we're worth to our customers in the Highlands, the West Coast and in hill areas and that those farmers feel detached from QMS too." The mart system marketed an estimated 70% of lambs and breeding sheep, plus 60% of store calves born in Scotland, he pointed out, yet it was not represented on the QMS board.

Later, he added: "Auction marts should not be considered as an added cost to the industry – rather, we should be recognised for adding value."