EAST YORKSHIRE farmer Paul Temple has put a cat among the pigeons by suggesting it might be time to take the livestock out of livestock markets.
He floated the idea in Farmers Weekly and spread the kerfuffle by repeating it on Farming Today this week.
Mr Temple, beef and arable farmer near Driffield, and a former vice president of the NFU, says the auctions remain important but the animals do not have to be there – "Ebay is proof that unseen selling works."
He argues that marts are centres for the transmission of disease and put a lot of stress on animals on their way to slaughter, which is not good for the meat. Driving animals to market and hanging around to hand them over to a buyer is time-consuming. A lot of animals are nowadays traded on the basis of standard gradings, photographs and trust between buyers and sellers – and new technology could make it more widespread.
Mr Temple sells 400-500 cattle a year directly to his local abattoir, Dawn Meats at Bridlington, which pays to an agreed formula. He does think the auctions are an important running test of what the market price is.
But he told the Yorkshire Post: "We can hardly complain about not making any money and having all these fuel bills and the risks of sharing costs and responsibility (for disease control) without being prepared to look at ways of doing something about it all."
But the auctioneers and their supporters doubt if online trading would save much fuel or stress because the animals would eventually have to be picked up by truck anyway. And, they add, a lot of farmers and butchers would be disappointed by what they got.
One Farmers Weekly reader said: "It's like buying a wife from the internet – might work for some but the vast majority of blokes need to see the lady and, if possible, handle her as well."
Jeremy Eaton, manager of CCM Auctions at Skipton, said they had tried all sorts of technology – during the movement restrictions of 2001 and since – and none of it had worked satisfactorily, because English farming produces a wide variety of animals and buyers all want to pick and choose.
In the end, however they organised the viewings, it was simpler to bring all the animals to a central point for distribution to their final destinations.
The Livestock Auctioneers Association said lorries travelling farm to farm would be a bigger risk of cross-contamination than the gatherings at markets.