THE essential role of the live auction system in setting trends and prices has been recognised in annual throughput figures released by the Livestock Auctioneers’ Association (LAA).

The figures show well over 11 million animals sold through the live sales ring in England and Wales in 2020, with turnover topping £1.8bn. They represent an increase in almost every sector over 2019 numbers, despite the unprecedented challenges of Covid-19, and a drop in production numbers in some categories.

Up from 10.7 million across all species in 2019, the latest figures include just under 10 million sheep and over 1 million cattle sold through the live system, as farmers turn to the livestock market to achieve best prices for their stock.

Total cattle sales pushed well over the one million-barrier, an increase of 30,000 over 2019, with overall sheep sales up 370,000 year on year.

Significantly, despite Defra figures revealing a 3.7 percent drop in overall mutton and lamb production, and a 15 percent drop in slaughter numbers for ewes and rams, slaughter stock numbers for sheep sold through the live markets have increased by almost five percent to over 6.8 million.

Calf numbers have risen by 10,000, up to 220,000, demonstrating how markets have adapted and align with the GB Dairy Calf Strategy, continuing to represent the largest viable marketplace for all calves.

It is perhaps the significant increase in turnover that truly reflects the value of the live system, with an increase of over £260m, taking total turnover to £1.8bn.

These hugely impressive figures should nevertheless be off-set against the considerable increase in staffing and market operational costs, managing and policing bio-secure sales environments, including the stringent additional Covid-19 protocols in place that has meant the markets have remained open for business.

“The increased throughputs have been phenomenal, and this is in a large part due to the support, understanding and patience of our vendors and buyers, and in return the live sales ring is delivering strong market prices,” explains LAA executive secretary Chris Dodds.

The live markets have pulled in more small and medium sized retailers and butchers during the challenges of the pandemic, by ensuring that the right stock is in place for them. In many respects, this has set the footprint for the future, with marts seeing lots of returning buyers and vendors to the live sales ring.

“The farming fraternity can see they can get much more for their stock through the live sales ring, with the competition and fair prices reflecting the demand against availability,” adds Bob Mosley, the recently appointed LAA chairman, “The last 12 months have really shown the value of the auction system.”

“Many markets are introducing real-time, online bidding platforms during their live sales, facilitating an opportunity to participate, for those not able to be physically on site during the day,” says Mr Dodds.