With Covid rules relaxed, life had begun to feel as if it was returning to normal. No such luck though!

Even before Putin invaded Ukraine, we were seeing challenging levels of input price inflation. The war has really pushed these to unbelievable levels and the challenges for all farms are now very apparent.

One of the most interesting developments has been the difficulties in the much lauded integrated supply chains for beef cattle. These schemes were set up and sold to farmers as a guaranteed, low risk way to make money, with risk shared through the supply chain.

However, the reality we are now seeing is much different. The supermarkets, which invariably sit at the top of the pyramid, do not want to share risk or profit. They certainly don’t want to raise the price for their customers, so the only way they can maintain margin is to push back down the chain to everyone who has tied themselves to it.

Unfortunately, in this situation the player at the bottom takes the punishment – the farmer who produces the primary animal.

It is also likely that the farmer has tied themselves into some sort of supply contract that will be difficult to break. The cows on the farm will have a nine-month supply of calves in them, so the supply chain and retailer assume the farmer will just have to take the price they offer, which has dropped significantly in the last six weeks. So much for guaranteed pricing and shared risk!

Many have eulogised about the brilliance of these systems and the fancy apps and agri tech solutions that go with them, but they lack so many of the basics of fair trade.

Predominantly, they fall short on flexibility and transparency – two essential attributes which auction marts are founded on, within a high welfare, assured environment.

Farmers who use their local auction markets are not tied into chains. They have the absolute flexibility about when to market their animals based on market signals or when they need to trade, not solely on a predetermined age and weight.

This ability to decide at short notice to market animals or to walk away if the price isn’t right on the day, helps maximise margins rather than be tied into a conveyor belt that seems difficult to jump off when other actors don’t pull their weight.

Auction marts offer transparency to everyone, especially the price discovery system, which is widely published for all to see – an asset that is often overlooked when making selling decisions on farm.

Livestock farmers do a great job of rearing animals and auctioneers really work for their selling customers to make sure they achieve as competitive a market price as possible. At the same time, they strive to provide a wide range of stock to satisfy the requirements of buyers coming to the mart.

Using the live ring works for everyone, apart from those seeking to ‘pinch’ too much from the primary chain. When farmers use their local mart, they help pull more buyers and processors away from the integration schemes and back into the transparent marketplace of the live ring. That way they cannot hide the value that primary producers, rearers and finishers should be receiving from the open market.

As the trade body for livestock auctioneers, we encourage you to use your local mart and much as possible and take some of the power (and money) back to your farm gate.

A last note on Covid. It is a relief that the remaining Covid regulations have been repealed and on this at least there is a feeling that society is beginning to get back to some form of normality.

Markets are once again fully operational for all visitors without the need for pre-registering or having to ‘drop and go’. Whilst we still need to take individual responsibility if we don’t feel well, we would encourage everyone to take a trip back to the mart to see what the trade is and to catch up with friends, old and new. We look forward to welcoming you.