The rise and rise of online stock auctions is taking a toll on traditional sale-yards.
In Glen Innes, the sale-yard manager reckons through-put is down 30 per cent in three or four years.
“We used to have weekly sales all the way through the year,” said Aaron Campbell, “but we haven’t had a weekly sale now for two years”. The routine now is fortnightly sales.
He hasn’t noticed a cut in staff because it employs casuals, but he has noticed a drop in revenue.
It’s been cut by the rise of AuctionsPlus whose chief executive said that it sold 2.75 million sheep and about 430,000 cattle online in the last financial year – livestock worth $700 million.
Online is the new model of buying and selling cattle and sheep – producers (sellers) put “lots” of stock (anything up to a thousand head of cattle in one lot) online and buyers bid and lose or win. The sold cattle are then transferred from buyer to seller without going through the physical sale-yard.
Except that, according to Aaron Campbell, they sometimes do. Because the distance between buyer and seller is often so great, transporters need to stop somewhere, often to transfer cattle to another transporter, and they use sale-yards which are left unattended.
He said trucks can turn up at all hours of the day and night and just use the unattended facilities.
The Glen Innes sale-yard manager said that this means wear and tear on the property which is owned by Glen Innes Severn Council – with no extra revenue.
The industry is exploring ways of getting that revenue but it’s a dilemma: “Do you try and isolate the site – fence it off? But that doesn’t come cheap”, he said.
One other option is to allow AuctionsPlus to be part of auctions at the sale-yard. In art auctions, for example, there are bidders in the room but also bidders online.
The difficulty with that for cattle, he said, was that online auction companies demanded $3,000 per sale, and that more than destroyed any profit. It would also mean having to invest in a lot of expensive technology.
AuctionsPlus chief executive Anna Speer told the Examiner that the price was falling and was now between $800 and $1,800. No expensive technology was necessary. She said the company was keen to work with the sale-yards.
Mr Campbell warned that if sale-yards closed, the market would be left to fewer, online markets and that could see prices eventually rise.