By Jim Craig, managing director of Craig Wilson and a member of IAAS

The future of our auction mart system has been increasingly in the news of late, with two significant closures in England and Wales. There’s no doubt it is a challenging time for the sector.

Against that background, though, it’s vital to set out the key part that livestock markets play in the agricultural economy, and the indispensable part we play in setting the price for stock sold inside, and outside the ring.

At times of uncertainty, and let’s face it there have rarely been times as uncertain as these, the ring plays an absolutely crucial role in ensuring that the nation’s primary producers have access to a fair price for their product. The bidding process is open, competitive and absolutely transparent. Everyone knows what the fairest price on that day was, and both buyers and sellers know that their positions have been tested against the whole market.

They can head home, cheque in hand, safe in the knowledge that they could have done no more to maximise the value of their hard work. For others though, and we have seen more of this, they are tied into direct contracts with buyers who set the price in advance. You have to ask yourself why they want to do that – for it certainly is not to offer a price to the seller that is higher than the current market price! No, it’s to squeeze producer margins even lower, and pay a lower price than would have been required in the ring.

I’m pleased to see that we are now starting to see buyers recognising that their local mart is a key part of the local agricultural network, and returning to where they can guarantee the best price.

For us at Craig Wilson, we’ve seen a healthy increase in sheep numbers through the ring of late, perhaps due to the more stable weather conditions compared to last year, meaning that stock have achieved target weight earlier.

Store cattle prices have unusually eased for this time of year, but it’s notable and probably unsurprising that the end product on the shelf does not seem to have fallen as far.