Andrew Arbuckle: What price a top bull – with or without Pack report?

I WILL resist the temptation to write another article on the Pack report, other than to say it now looks as if the industry is beginning to get really involved in the proposals and looking at what they might mean for Scottish farming.

It was not just farmers who attended the first meeting about it in Haddington last week. Prominent bankers and civil servants were spotted as questions were lobbed up to the man himself. The implications of CAP reform go well beyond the farmyard.

The one area that seems to be coming in for a fair degree of outright dismissal is the suggestion that Article 68 might be used to lever in a bit more support for one sector of the industry.

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One interesting suggestion from one who has been involved at the top of the industry was that a change in the reference year to, say, 2008, would quickly eliminate those who have retired from farming.

With almost a quarter of farm support going to those no longer actively involved in the business, it is no surprise that the Lloyds TSB survey found such hostility to the leaking of support cash from an industry whose overall profitability fell last year.

The size of the so called "slipper brigade" will increase year on year and the leakage of money out of farming will increase year on year until a change is made, and this interim measure would help keep cash in the industry until Scotland has an alternative system and until Europe is ready to change.

But, for the present, I will stay out of any CAP reform controversy.

Instead, I will stay on safe non-contentious ground and raise issues surrounding pedigree stock and breed societies. The time is appropriate with the Perth bull sales getting under way today in Stirling.

It will not be too contentious to suggest United Auctions quickly drop the Perth title and just call them the bull sales. Perth is gone, so why hark back to another era?

This week, it is the turn of the native breeds plus the Limousins and then, in a fortnight, in come the Simmentals and the Charolais. One native breed, the Aberdeen Angus, received a tremendous boost this past week with the announcement of a private deal that broke the breed record in this country.

I have no problem with recording that transaction, which broke one of the oldest records in the livestock world. Indeed, The Scotsman reported it after the Aberdeen Angus Society promoted it as a new breed record.

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However, it did get me wondering about private deals being the basis for establishing breed records and even breed averages.

I know that sitting in the press room at the bull sales, there would be a collective groan whenever a regular consigner, let us call him M, popped his head around the door and said, "I've just sold another two bulls for 5,000 guineas."

These would be the same bulls that the auctioneer had only minutes earlier searched high and low in a desperate effort to even get a bid prior to them being escorted unsold out of the ring.

"That will put my sales figures up from x to 2x" added the man with his head around the door of the press room. This leaves the hacks who are dealing with sale sheets debating how we deal with M's claims.

At other times of the year, we are contacted by other pedigree breeders saying they have just sold a bull privately at a high price and can we publicise the transaction?

I am sure that every one of these deals is conducted honourably but I worry the system does not have the transparency that a sale in the ring provides.

I am an innocent in such matters but I suppose it is possible in the future for two breeders to get together and arrange a fictitious new world record sum in a private deal that would rocket them to the pinnacle of their pedigree world.

That is an issue that breed societies will require to work out for themselves.

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Back to the coming sales, where there is more optimism in the beef world than there has been for a long, long time. However, it should be remembered that the progeny of the bulls traded in the coming weeks will not be turned into sirloin steaks and burgers until 2012 and the big question is "what will the trade be then?"

Perhaps I should not worry myself about private deals of pedigree stock – the bigger issue is what will the price of beef be?