New lease of life sought as saleyards look to future
Falling stock numbers and new selling methods are putting pressure on the owners of the saleyards at Brightwater to come up with ways of keeping the farming institution relevant.
The Waimea Saleyards Company - which is owned by 48 shareholders, most of whom are or were local farmers - held its 75th annual meeting last week. While it remains a profitable business, chairman Ian Parkes said the past year had been its toughest yet.
"Sales last year showed a dramatic drop. We lost 10,000 sheep, mostly through land use changes."
In the 10 years he had been chairman, the number of sheep sold annually had fallen from 60,000 to 30,000, and cattle from 10,000 to about 6500, Mr Parkes said.
Most of this was due to sheep and cattle land being lost to dairying, forestry, grapes and other horticultural crops, although more stock was now being sold either directly or online.
The company had looked at trying to attract other types of stock, but most dairy cattle trading was now done directly, and it was difficult when most farms were based in either Golden Bay or the Murchison area, Mr Parkes said.
While the company had spent money upgrading much of the yards, it was not wealthy enough to install scales.
But he said the yards - the only ones left in the region - remained important as a place where smaller farmers and in particular lifestyle block owners could go to buy and sell their animals, which often fetched excellent prices for small pens, setting benchmarks for stock firms and others.
"They are our main customers, and many are here every week."
The yards were also a good venue for larger sheep and lamb fairs, which attracted outside buyers, and were known for holding some of the best calf sales in the South Island, he said.
However, in a bid to be around for another 10 to 20 years, the company was considering a number of options, Mr Parkes said.
These included leasing part of what was a premium site by the state highway for a commercial development, which would give the company more of a regular income.
It was reluctant to move, because the compliance costs of setting up a new facility were "outrageous". However, if someone came along with "a couple of million bucks, we would probably struggle to say no".
Unlike many other saleyards around the country, the company had not sold out to big stock firms, because it was still making money, he said.
"It's a matter of boxing on."
Tapawera farmer and shareholder Mitch Irvine said he hoped the saleyards would be around for a while yet, as they provided "a good gauge of what your stock is worth" and were a place where farmers could get together.
Dwindling stock numbers was just a sign of the times, he said.
He recalled when there were yards scattered throughout the province, and mobs of sheep and cattle were driven by foot down the main road to Richmond for sale.
The yards at Brightwater were initially based behind the pub before the company bought the present site across the road from farmer Billy Max for a pound, Mr Irvine said.
Owen Baigent, whose father was one of the original shareholders, said the weekly sales were where he caught up with what was happening around the district, and he had missed only a dozen or so in the almost 60 years he had been going.
He made his first deal when he was little more than 4 years old, after his father gave him some sheep to raise and sell.
"I remember the old wooden smoko room where the copper was boiled outside for the tea, then after the sales we would all go over to the pub with the auctioneers. It was a real social event."
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