As restrictions have lifted across the country, life may feel a bit more like ‘normal.’ Business has continued as usual at the marts and the removal of physical distancing will allow more faces back at the ringside. All being well, we’ll be able to look forward to the autumn sales too and the chance for more customers to get off farm and meet up again.

A summer of good prices should flow into a confident autumn sale season. While cattle were expensive in the spring, trade has risen with them. The fears that Europe would stop buying after Brexit proved unfounded, demonstrating that abroad they are not relinquishing on quality.

Sheep prices are at levels not seen for some time, which is giving producers confidence to sell early as well as to buy replacement stock.

The staycation has been a boon for livestock sales. The country is so busy with most of the population at home and they are treating themselves in the absence of a holiday abroad.

Whether eating at home or on staycation, consumers seem to be spending substantially more on meat – and year-round – at Easter and Christmas as much as throughout the summer.

The recent reopening of restaurants has also contributed to the surge, but the greatest boost has come from the hot weather and spontaneous barbecues. Anecdotally, butchers tell me that as well as more people choosing to buy meat, there is renewed interest in how to cook it and experimenting with new cuts, hopefully a habit that will stick.

Talking to others in the industry, from NFUS to QMS, it’s good to hear that keeping the live rings going is recognised as being the mainstay for where prices are now, and stock values at heights never seen before.

The industry has pulled together extraordinarily in the last 16 months in the face of the unknowns of both Brexit and Covid, and regular communication between key organisations has allowed the whole sector to anticipate challenges and maximise opportunities.

To ensure the future of the mart, we also need to encourage more young people into it, as producers and apprentices. As other parts of the supply chain report significant struggles with labour, we need more than ever to show young people that we are not recruiting just for a job, but for a career.

The cream rises to the top in this industry, and, with the structure, commercial drive and investment in people found in Scotland’s modern marts, there is opportunity for all to work their way up from the yard to management. Recognising the importance of this, the Institute invests significantly in its education and examination structure, working in partnership with tertiary learning establishments to nurture the talent and skill of new, up-and-coming auctioneers and valuers and create prospects.

In the same way, we need to stem the decline in the number of farmers breeding and finishing stock by showing young people there is a reasonable and satisfying living to be made from it.

At IAAS, we are proud to invest in our members to give them a fulfilling career, but there is another side to it too. All of our auctioneers and affiliates are accredited and abide by a Code of Conduct that gives customers confidence. In a recent salutary tale, the Institute was contacted by a farmer who had sold a substantial amount of stock privately, and not received the full amount of money he’d anticipated.

Unfortunately, IAAS was unable to help him recoup his losses as it was not a member he had been dealing with, but it is a good reminder of the reassurance and transparency of selling through the ring, not only that you will get the best price on the day, but that you will be paid the agreed amount.

The Prince’s Countryside Fund’s More Than A Mart report on the role of marts in rural life was recently published, underscoring everything that we know about the value of the marts to our customers – not just as a place for business, but for moral support, a chat, important time away from the farm, or a check-up with the doctor or accountant.

Although it was more England-centric, at IAAS we are pleased to see the recognition given to the significance of local marts, backed by HRH Prince Charles who has talked passionately about the importance of family farming and rural communities in recent weeks.

As the report points out though, if marts are not commercially successful, they will not be there to provide all of these vital benefits. We need Scotland’s marts to be an active tool in the box for producers, breeders, finishers, butchers and wholesalers when they are buying and selling stock. It is, after all, where they will get the best and fairest price.

Our valuers have enjoyed being out on farm again in recent months, reminded how important it is for all to have time to talk face-to-face. We hope we’ll also soon see the marts back to being social, noisy, enterprising, exciting, fun hubs, with farmers jumping in their pick-up in the morning with a trailer on the back, excited about the day ahead.

We ask you respectfully to wear masks around the market for the safety of our staff and customers.