New research by Prince’s Countryside Fund highlights importance of auction marts for social, health, and wellbeing of their visitors

credit Charles Sainsbury-Plaice

The research found that as many as 1 in 5 mart visitors go for social reasons alone. Photo credit: Charles Sainsbury-Plaice

Launched at an event with HRH The Prince of Wales last week (21st July), a new report commissioned by The Prince’s Countryside Fund, and carried out by Dr Caroline Nye, Professor Matt Lobley and Professor Michael Winter from the University of Exeter, highlights how auction marts tackle social isolation and improve the health and wellbeing of their users.

More than a Mart identifies a number of different ways that markets add value to their local communities. Though no blanket model of a livestock auction mart exists which determines their success, More than a Mart shows that from running health surgeries to carol services, venues for training to farm shops, marts are far more than just a place to buy and sell livestock.

Chris Dodds, Executive Secretary of the Livestock Auctioneers Association said: “We welcome The Prince’s Countryside Fund report, which highlights that livestock markets continue to be at the heart of the rural community, not only in playing an integral part in the red meat supply chain in providing the much valued independent, transparent, open and competitive forum used to determine the true market value of livestock, but also through providing a myriad of alternative services and support for the local farming community.

“The Prince’s Countryside Fund report findings and recommendations will assist auctioneering businesses throughout the UK to prepare and equip their businesses for the many changes we all face, ensuring that the services and support they provide to the rural community continue to develop and prosper. The LAA looks forward to working with their members throughout the development and delivery of this work.”

A farm support network based at a UK mart told the report authors: “Let me say it very, very bluntly OK. It saves lives.” The research found that as many as 1 in 5 mart visitors come for social reasons alone, and marts offer solutions to the issue of poor mental health within the industry – from rural chaplains based at marts, to auction mart managers who are seen as a trusted source of knowledge, to farmer networks who attend sale days. The report urges livestock farmers to engage with support services and social activities at their mart, and take advantage of events, training, and other support offered by livestock markets.

Dr Caroline Nye, Research Fellow at the Centre for Rural Policy Research, University of Exeter, and lead author of the report said: “The livestock auction mart is one of the few places left where members of the agricultural community can congregate together on a regular basis and share their experiences. As farmers become more and more isolated from each other, as well as from their customer, the importance of these spaces has become so much greater than that of their original purpose. They are key hubs from which members of the agricultural community can be supported to become more resilient both in terms of business and of health, and they should be recognised, utilised and supported as such.”

The research noted that some marts have become increasingly welcoming to women in farming. Approximately 17% of UK farmers are women, an increase of 7% in a decade. One woman who responded to the report said: “For myself, personally, the mart has been a huge boost. It has given me so much more confidence to do things and I do feel that I can talk to people, and sometimes it’s easier to talk to people outside the family.”

Cutcombe Market in Devon hosts the Exmoor Hill Farming Network, a farm support organisation which works with more than 300 farming families. The mart acts as the headquarters for EHFN, and its support in facilitating the connection between its visiting farmers and the network has contributed to EHFNs popularity. EHFN offers its members a range of services, including information, training, and demonstrations, plus support groups for women and younger farmers.

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