Scottish auction markets have witnessed a great start to the busy back-end sales season: year-on-year averages have been rising across the board, and we’ve also seen new sales fixtures appearing, such as a regular pig sale for the first time in many years.

Farmers have also presented excellent animals for sale, which is a great credit to all our auction mart customers in what has been a really challenging year in terms of weather.

Read more: High quality for Scots Gap Auction Mart’s summer show

The buoyant trade also continues to underline the importance of auction markets in creating a transparent trade that delivers a true market price for all concerned. Online rivals may talk about achieving 98% of the asking price, but the live ring delivers 100% of the market price to the highest bidder, not the only bidder.

Some may be tempted to pass by their local auction marts in favour of online auction systems delivered by countries on the other side of the world, but as the recent Prince’s Countryside Fund report on auction markets highlights, using your local IAAS member livestock market delivers value over and above the sale price in the ring: It provides local jobs, feeds into the local economy, and acts as an essential social hub for the farming community, all things that online selling sites cannot.

A really pleasing thing to see during the back-end sale season, is more farmers getting back to the ring as COVID restrictions have eased. Our members have welcomed back many attendees that they missed during the pandemic, which has all added in bringing back the ‘buzz’ around the ring. As we all know, whilst online bidding and digital screening has complimented the live ring over the last 18 months, there is no substitute for being ringside in the flesh.

However, I must urge everyone to please acknowledge and remember that the Covid pandemic has not ended. With more people in attendance and physical distancing having reduced, the health and safety of the farming community and staff at auction markets now rests on the responsible behaviour of all of us who attend.

IAAS members are obliged to follow legal requirements and we ask all our customers to support us with this. The provision of contact information to assist with Test and Protect is vital in the event of an outbreak – just the same as movement records are for livestock in the same scenario. The wearing of face coverings in all enclosed areas of auction markets is also a legal requirement.

Let’s please help keep everybody safe – farmers and staff – by all continuing to wear our face coverings in Scottish marts. They are for others’ protection as much as the wearer’s.

Whilst COVID remains a headline grabber, our wider industry must also take note of the recent power-sharing agreement signed at Holyrood between the SNP and the Greens. At face value this seems to present a real challenge for our farming industry. Farming representatives, including IAAS, will need to ensure industry wide engagement with both parties to ensure understanding of the critical need for a healthy and productive Scottish agricultural sector alongside recent Government aspirations for the industry.

There is little doubt that there has been a ‘Green’ influence in yet another new group set up to examine the future of the industry – the Agricultural Reform Implementation Oversight Board (ARIOB) which was established just in time to meet the government’s 100-day manifesto commitment.

The pressure now falls to our Cabinet Secretary, Mairi Gougeon, and NFUS president, Martin Kennedy, to deliver some tangible results. However, I suspect there will be challenge ahead unless there is change with some key influential civil servants, who have often been at odds with the livestock sector.

Whilst the Cabinet Secretary may be saying that the proposed reduction of 300,000 healthy cattle to meet climate targets is ‘absolute nonsense’, the figure is the reality of the Scottish Government’s emissions reduction target, as presented to the Suckler Beef Climate Group Programme Board.

The pressure is well and truly on our farmer representatives sitting on the ARIOB to ensure that senior civil servants and environmental groups do not steam roller over them and implement a set of policies that would turn our farmers from food producers into park keepers.

It is also worth noting that several members of the ARIOB work for organisations that are dependent on Scottish Government for ongoing funding. In these circumstances, we should ask whether such members are able to provide the independent rigorous policy oversight needed without feeling some sort of conflict.

At IAAS, we believe in collaboration and working together as an industry, and so in what feels like a defining moment, we will be offering as much support as necessary to our farmer representatives, who have both the future of the industry and climate change action in their hands.

Jim Brown’s column in last week’s Scottish Farmer really hit the nail on the head with this balance between productivity and climate mitigation and adaptation: slashing our own livestock production risks simply offshoring our emissions issues through imports. We do this at our own peril.

We must value the security of our own food production much more highly than we currently do. Climate change is already bringing instability in all areas of the globe and it is essential that we build our own resilience and ensure we can feed our population.

Our industry, like all others, must play its part in reducing emissions, improving resource efficiency and supporting our natural environment. However, slaughtering 300,000 healthy breeding cattle, offshoring emissions, forcing our farmers out of business, and destroying the Scottish rural economy in one go, for a tiny global benefit, seems unbalanced and ill-advised. Might we just be cutting our nose off to spite our face?

Given the urgency of tackling climate change, and the seismic changes that are being proposed in the Scottish halls of power, we would welcome the Cabinet Secretary to spend some time at the mart and with our brilliant auctioneers and farmers, where she would get a clear picture of their value to this country: providers of safe, nutritious food and natural environments, of jobs and wealth creation in fragile areas, and the backbone of the Scottish rural economy.