‘Maintaining an effective food supply chain is critical’ – auction mart boss Covid-19 restrictions now in place at Skipton Skipton Auction Mart put in place procedures at the start of last week in the light of Covid-19. Following the latest Government guidelines issued at the beginning of this week, vendors are now only permitted to drop off livestock at the mart, with stringent restricted buyer access to purchase.

Jeremy Eaton, general manager at one of north’s leading and busiest livestock centres, stressed: “While it is essential we remain open and trading for the benefit of both buyers and sellers alike, the market is now completely free of vendors in the sales yard and all shows have been cancelled until further notice.

“In turn, buyers can only walk in, sign in, go straight to the ringside and purchase what they see in front of them. In this way we can tailor sales accordingly and minimise the number of people who attend the market. It is vital we adopt such measures in order to ensure that we keep food on shelves not only in the medium term, but also long-term future.

“The procedures we have implemented are consistent with the Government’s advice and intended to minimise risk to buyers and sellers alike, but it is imperative that everyone follows the Government advice themselves.

“We remain keenly aware that vendors may need to clear pens before lambing/calving, while prime sheep finishers will need to sell hoggs bought at our Autumn sales at this important time of year. In addition, sellers who may be self-isolating and need to sell livestock stock in this critical period should contact the auctioneers to discuss how we might be able to facilitate this without their attendance.

“In turn, buyers will need to stock pens with feeding cattle, while processors need access to normal supplies to keep shops and supermarkets stocked.”

Speaking late last week, Mr Eaton stressed: “Finance needs to remain in circulation in farmers’ pockets for the benefit of the wider community and this week alone has seen £1.5m in sales generated, which is out there to pay bills and sustain farms during the Spring when farms in Craven traditionally concentrate on lambing and calving the next crop.

 “While Covid-19 policy is changing on a daily basis as the gravity of the situation is revealed, both farmer producers and livestock marts continue to play an important role in ensuring that stock is marketed quickly to the buyers that need it. The supply is dynamic and so is the pricing to ensure the right stock arrives with the correct end user.

“At the moment we are successfully meeting demand across all sectors and are confident that with the ongoing support of both sellers and buyers we can continue to do so, though this is, of course, subject to any future constraints applied in the interests of public safety.”
Skipton Auction Mart says it will post any further updates/changes on the mart website – - and via Facebook.

In the interim, regular retail and wholesale butcher buyers at the mart report that they are currently keeping up with spiralling consumer demand in the high street.

James Robertshaw, who purchases prime beef cattle on a weekly basis at Skipton, multiple show champions and prize winners among them, said that last week he bought a total of 20 cattle at local auction marts to meet massive public demand at both his own Robertshaw’s Farm Shop in Thornton, above Bradford, and Keelham Farm Shop in Skipton.

He said: “As far as Robertshaw’s is concerned, we are currently selling four times as much meat in our in-house butchery than we normally would. Yes, there is certainly an element of panic buying, not just with beef, but with other meat products such as lamb, along with fresh fruit and veg. It is literally flying off the shelves as soon as we put it out there.

“However, as things stand the supply chain is absolutely fine and one of the major advantages we have is dealing direct with farmers and auction marts.  We are replenishing all the time and managing to keep our shelves full.”

Mr Robertshaw added that in rapidly changing times, Robertshaw’s Farm Shop was keen to both adapt and respond, and would also be looking to launch an online ordering facility in the very near future, with a home delivery option also being considered to meet the needs of the elderly and needy, and others maintaining self-isolation. 

Simon Barker, who owns and runs Barkers Yorkshire Butchers, a catering and wholesale business that operates from the fully EC-registered meat production unit at Skipton Auction Mart and is now firmly focussed on providing a bespoke butchery service to the trade, said there had been no let-up in demand for beef, lamb and pork from both farm shop and retail butcher customers across the region.

He noted: “On the flip side, our supplies to hospitality sector customers - pubs, restaurants and cafes - which have now been ordered by the Government to close their doors, have all but dried up. However, we will be more than happy to meet the requirements of any outlets that have introduced or are planning to put in place takeaway or home delivery options.”

Mr Barker said the business could also supply trade customers in general calling in with phone orders, while members of the public could also place phone orders in advance to collect at the unit. Barkers Yorkshire Butchers is on 01756 831020.

The business sources all its prime beef and lamb from Skipton Auction Mart and the majority of its prime porkers from Yorkshire via Ashford Brothers, who run a Red Tractor-assured farm in Bedale. Barkers’ keynote pork supply arm produces its own sausages, bacon and gammon in-house, both wet and dry-cured. 

Ashford Brothers are also major buyers of cattle at the Skipton store cattle sales. Mr Eaton added: “These are local producers and local businesses providing provenance and saving hundreds of food miles.”