Crippingly low margins are putting small farmers under intense pressure, livestock auctioneer warns
- Credit: Archant
Livestock farmers have ended a tough year on a high – with an annual celebration of locally-produced meat at East Anglia’s only remaining weekly market.
Producers and buyers turned out in force for Stanfords' fiercely-contested Christmas Show, which takes place yearly at its auction houses in Colchester, amid a flurry of high bids for champion animals.
But beneath the festive cheer there are worries about the future, as small farmers battle a host of challenges to the viability of their businesses, said auctioneer Graham Ellis.
MORE - Price of Christmas turkeys should be little changed - as feed prices suppressed by BrexitIt was a good atmosphere - bearing in mind the state of the livestock industry - and well supported by farmers, butchers and wholesalers, he said.
But the sector is beset by a number of sector-wide problems, fuelled by Brexit uncertainty, falling prices and changes in consumer habits - including a move towards non-meat foods and a trend towards veganism and vegetarianism - as well as competition from cheap food imports, he explained.
"The job is pretty hard at the moment - it's tough. There are many pressures on them and the prices don't really cover costs," he said.
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"It's a battle. The small family farm has never been under such pressure."
Livestock farmers in the UK must adhere to high standards - and face higher costs of production than other countries as a result, he said.
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The economic situation is particularly hard for the smaller producers which use markets like Stanfords to sell their animals - one of just a few weekly livestock markets left.
"We are quite unique really, and it's hard out there," he said. "The industry at the moment is being hit right, left and centre.
"I'm saying to the people out there that this country needs small family farms because if you go into big factory farms, it's a different world."
This year at the Christmas show was a clean sweep for long-standing livestock market supporters as the Ketley farming family, of Fingringhoe, near Colchester, scooped the prize for champion beast in the cattle ring and the top sheep championship.
Butcher Allman Fowler - who judged the stock in the livestock ring - praised the strong entries from regular supporters of the market. The winning beast - a Limousin steer - was snapped up by George Blackwell, of Blackwell Farm Shop, Earls Colne, for 480p/kg (£2,438) after strong bidding from the floor. The reserve prize went to Heather and Graham Blythe of Horsford.
Over in the sheep pens, the overall show championship went to a pair of Charollais cross lambs from the Ketleys, after a strong competition judged by Boxted butcher John Coleman. They were also sold to Mr Blackwell after reaching £300 a head (625p/kg).
Second prize in the heavy lambs went to Beltex cross lambs from Tom Biela, Icklingham, which were sold to Ipswich butcher George Debman.
Overall, 81 prime cattle were brought to market, including 42 steers and heifers in the show classes. There was also good entry of 789 sheep and seven goats, with 60 quality lambs vying across the sheep competitions.
Mr Ellis praised the good quality of cattle and some exceptional sheep at the show.