I’ve said before in this column that as auctioneers we want to sell the most environmentally friendly livestock in the world.

Scottish sheep and cattle are, arguably, already that – but there is always room for improvement to this increasingly valuable USP, and whether we like it or not, retailers, government and consumers are all nudging us in that direction.

One thing that could help the sector further with emissions reductions, is what might seem like a relatively simple piece of kit – ear tags.

Since 2011, the Scottish government has been trialling a new EID (electronic identification) system using ultra high frequency technology, with the help of Aberdeen and Northern Marts at Thainstone and a group of participating farmers.

These UHF tags enable more data about each animal to be stored and emit signals that can be detected from 6-7m away, rather than 1m currently, helping our industry improve on its poor health and safety record.

These two features – data and distance – could revolutionise the way livestock are bought and sold through the live ring, and what breeding and performance levels farmers look to produce and purchase.

Imagine this:

You’re standing around the live ring at your mart and as the livestock run in, their tags are read without the need to get close and slow things down. Their individual data appears on a screen and you can see all their details, such as date of birth, breed, weight, and veterinary history.

Perhaps the seller has added further useful data such as daily live weight gain, feed conversion ratios, or even what farming system he or she employed.

This system would offer the seller even more flexibility in how they market their animals through the live ring. The opportunity to provide additional details to buyers through a digital system may be attractive to many, without everyone feeling pressurised to do it.

The live ring doesn’t have a specification to meet, after all, and that’s some of the beauty of it.

As the buyer, you have more information at your fingertips to make purchasing decisions, and all while still in the live ring, where you know the auctioneering system will deliver a quality and quantity of livestock at the fairest price. Traceability is improved and the safety and quality of our Scotch Beef preserved.

As retailers and manufacturers set emissions reduction targets, those demands will be passed back along the chain to livestock producers. It’s therefore not a great leap to see how this could create entirely different sets of criteria for purchasing decisions, geared towards the most efficient, lowest-emitting livestock, and how this in turn will influence breeding.

As long as livestock are healthy, auction marts don’t discriminate on specs. But as well as commercial pressures, we know that agricultural support payments from 2025 will be linked to climate performance, and so any tools we can employ to help deliver that will benefit farmers and auction marts.

Let’s hope that the Scottish government’s £51m National Test Programme is directed towards practical measures, like collecting and providing this level of productive information on animals that can deliver real productivity and emissions improvements.

From our perspective, we believe marts, which already collect a lot of data, are the obvious places to help support these innovations.

Even if the National Test Programme fails to deliver in this area, it is still something to seriously consider for your business as it has the potential to improve on farm productivity and margins.

Ultimately, the goal of auctioneers and farmers are aligned – we want to grow our national beef output, with the most efficient cattle on the planet, so that we can produce the greenest meat in the world and do our bit for the tackling the climate crisis, as well as feeding the nation with highly nutritious Scotch Beef.