By Donald Young, group director at United Auctions, Stirling, and newly re-elected president of the Institute of Auctioneers and Appraisers in Scotland

For the first time in two years, farmers gathered in full force at auction marts around Scotland this spring. Not only was it great to see huge crowds and how happy everyone was to be back, but also a real mix of folk, including retired or semi-retired farmers, alongside active farmers.

After two years of isolation, people could speak to each other again, catch up with neighbours, and share information and knowledge – a priceless exchange between generations and peers, as everyone faced into historically high costs and a very uncertain world.

Strong prices did at least go some way to offsetting increased costs, particularly in cull cows which saw prices higher than ever. This was encouraged by strong domestic and EU demand, with most sales seeing buyers coming to the mart in search of beef.

Store prices were maintained, even though the finished article went up due to increased feeding costs, while prime cattle prices were reasonably firm, but did not entirely compensate for the extra cost of feeding.

Sheep too saw some very good and steady prices, and we probably had record throughputs this spring.

However, as we entered the spring sale season we would normally have expected a flush of buyers in the mart, ready to get stock on fresh pastures, but this was more subdued than usual because of the cost of fertiliser. Some producers decided to take the hit themselves, put fertiliser on their grass, and hope prices would go up later – but many did not want the risk.

With the price of cull cows so high, we saw farmers selling 10-20 cows at a time – but they didn’t necessarily replace them due to the cost of production. Everyone seems to have reduced numbers slightly, which will have a knock-on effect for the national herd.

As the cost of everything really starts to take off, our customers are thinking about the year ahead and the cost of living crisis in general: How curtailed will people’s disposable incomes be, and will they still be going for their steak on a Saturday night?

With so much uncertainty and high costs, a lot of farmers seem to be on the fence about whether to stay in the industry. It’s certainly a tough time, and looks like everyone – farmer or not – is going to be tightening their belts in the year ahead.

We have little control over the world events pushing up prices. What auction marts can offer though, is what we always have, for hundreds of years – a listening ear, a space for gathering to do business and support one another, and the most transparent and fair prices for your livestock.

As we’ve said before on these pages, we are most definitely stronger together as an industry, and we’re going to need that strength more than ever.