A record breaking turnover of £2bn was recorded for all species of livestock sold through the live auction mart system in England and Wales last year.

The increase in sales, due to a growing numbers of producers and buyers recognising the importance of the sales ring, comes at a time when integrated supply chains are coming under greater scrutiny. This is particularly true in the pig sector where contracts have effectively been ripped up when the trade collapsed, and even more pressure has been placed on beef and lamb through direct contracts.

While prices on forward contracts have not risen to reflect increasing production costs and lack of numbers, the live sales system has remained resilient and transparent, working on behalf of farmers to get a fair trade on the stock sold through the ring, according to Chris Dodds, executive secretary of the Livestock Auctioneers' Association (LAA)

“The live sales system is working on behalf of not only the producer, but also the retailer and the consumer, by ensuring quality, home-produced red meat has been available despite all the challenges through both Brexit and the global pandemic,” he said.

Despite a slight reduction in slaughter stock figures across all species which is negligible against the overall drop in the national kill and deadweight figures, numbers have remained strong, particularly within Wales with an increase across all species other than pigs. Pig numbers have however remained consistent from 2020 figures.

Store and breeding stock numbers followed a similar pattern in 2021, with a slight drop in cattle and sheep numbers through livestock markets in England, while Wales again recorded a slight jump in both categories, and a sharp rise in calf numbers.

Overall throughput numbers for all category of cattle rose by 3000 to a combined 1,042,000 across England and Wales, while sheep numbers saw a small drop to 9,666,000, down 137,000 year on year.

Pigs and calves both saw an overall increase of 8000 and 10,000 respectively, with 101,000 pigs and 230,000 calves sold through the live sales ring in 2021.

Crucially, despite the lower numbers, markets saw a huge increase of more than £267m, to break through the £2bn turnover barrier for the first time. Overall the markets generated a turnover of £2,082,317,000.00.

“Trade has been buoyant throughout the year for all types, while at the same time we have seen forward contracts and integrated supply chains fail across the agricultural sector,” added Mr Dodds.

“Supply and demand are key to everything, and when there has been a global lack of sheep meat worldwide, for example, the markets need to adjust accordingly. The dynamic nature of the live sales system allows us to react as an industry, working on behalf of the farmer to secure the best price for their stock.

“The past two years re-emphasised the importance of the live sale ring, providing a platform for farmers to present and sell their stock at a fair market price,” he said.

This was particularly seen in the finished lamb market in 2021, where on numerous occasions the live prime lamb price has been superior to its deadweight equivalent. On several occasions, deadweight firms have attempted unsuccessfully to reduce the farm gate price.

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“We have shown the true worth of the live sales system, and we have seen a lot of deadweight stock come back to the market, with producers picking and choosing between marketing systems for their best stock,” added Mr Dodds.

“Our strength lies in the fact that we provide a marketplace for all classes and species, unlike buying groups who may for example select the 10 calves they wish to purchase, leaving 20 unsold. Through the market you are able to sell the entire stock.

"Despite the dual challenges of Brexit and a global pandemic, the livestock markets of England and Wales have maintained competitive trade throughout, and this has been reflected in the record prices achieved.”