LIVESTOCK auction markets may need to diversify and substantially upgrade their facilities if they are to have a viable future, a new report warns.
A study into the challenges that livestock markets face, by the MLC Consulting organisation for EBLEX, said that a number of factors had caused problems for marts in recent years.
The authors say Bluetongue, Foot and Mouth and Bovine TB, all put on pressure to upgrade facilities.
This happened alongside a dramatic decline in livestock levels in the UK, particularly in the dairy sector. The offspring of dairy cattle make up 40 per cent of home-produced beef.
"The last 20 years have been beset with problems for English livestock markets," said EBLEX project manager Liz Ford.
"However, despite a rationalisation in their number, livestock markets have survived and developed as a means of buying and selling store and finished stock.
"The fortunes of the livestock industry will always fluctuate as a result of economic forces and more unpredictable factors such as disease outbreaks, so in order to survive and prosper into the next decade, markets must continue to embrace change as well as looking to diversify to increase their income."
The study recommends that markets work hard to maintain the support of their local farming communities and should act as "a hub" for a particular area's farmers.
It says that the future of markets will depend on their ability to develop "a closer rapport with the younger members of the farming community".
The report adds that farmers who use auction marts need to be confident that they will receive a fair price if they take their cattle there and market owners need to continue to attract both buyers and owners.
Good roads and parking are also described as essential, particularly as some auction marts are based in remote areas.
Effective auction marts should be able to compete both regionally and on a local basis, says the report.
However, much of the future success of auction marts will be determined by the livestock industry itself, which is completely out of mart owners' control.
The report concedes that smaller and older auction marts may find it less easy to diversify than their more modern counterparts.
The report comes in the same week that the National Beef Association has told Eblex that its most important short-term priority is the sale of more English beef onto export markets.
It has also asked for new levy money to be aimed at convincing consumers that regular beef consumption is good for their health.
"We have said we are pleased at the decision to set aside new funds aimed at increasing exports to 20 per cent of English production by the end of next year – and that a man of the calibre of Jean-Pierre Garnier is overseeing this task," said NBA director, Kim Haywood.