“We are really looking forward to seeing friends and colleagues back at the Mart.”
Cattle sales have been working well on Orkney during lockdown, according to Graham Low, Senior Auctioneer at Orkney Mart. Although systems have had to change, the Mart has been grateful for the loyalty of buyers, sellers and to Northlink Ferries for keeping business fluid.
Commenting, Graham Low said:
“Being on an island has been a challenge and a bonus.
“We rely heavily on our mainland buyers to come over for the sales and that was wiped out overnight at the end of March. On the upside, Orkney beef has a quality that buyers will hold out for.”
Keeping connected has been key. Once the Mart knew the mainland customers would not be stepping foot on the island for some time, Jim Linklater, lifetime auctioneer at Orkney Mart recently (semi-) retired, and Graham called regular buyers and sellers to arrange sales.
“Longstanding relationships meant they trusted us to select cattle for them, which could be transported as usual on the freight ferry on a Monday night, causing no interruption to their usual mode of business and they were thrilled with the quality of the stock. We sold 400 head, similar to what we’d anticipated at the special store sale due at the end of March.”
Pre-lockdown the Mart had just moved to fortnightly sale dates and this model proved essential to keeping the mart operating for island customers under IAAS guidelines, with a skeleton staff and fewer cattle to process. Livestock agents and local farmers have been taking orders from buyers and putting in bids.
In May, the Mart moved to weekly sales, which has eased the process further for all and suited the buyers to have the stock spread out over the month.
“The support of local customers for our mart is never underestimated and has been particularly appreciated during this time. Local farmers and butchers were initially concerned about the loss of food service and the Orkney schools closing but the fat trade has held up really well with the butchers very busy, a mix of more local buying and BBQ weather both of which I hope is sustained.”
Keeping in touch with both the buyers and farmers on the island has been valuable for the whole community, not just to keep trade going, but also social interaction in the absence of the mart gatherings. The strictest lockdown hit lambing and calving time when farmers especially enjoy the social aspect and outlet of the mart.
Constant phone contact has revitalised the mart’s role of offering a listening ear and “general banter” away from the day job. The Orkney Mart website has been updated regularly to keep the flow of information as the situation has evolved and the team has been sharing stock and stories on Facebook.
Planning is on track for the Autumn sales being back to normal, launching in August with the big Show Sale, which in a usual year would mark the end of the Orkney shows. Flights are booked for buyers from the mainland and pre-registered buyers and vendors should all be back on ringside.
There may still be some restriction on numbers to assure safe social distancing and IAAS is working hard with the local authorities, the Scottish Government and the health protection board to address the additional logistical and health challenges, and, most importantly, to keep everyone on the island safe and healthy.