Battle for the yards

THE ongoing debate surrounding access to Gloucester’s iconic cattle saleyards on its busiest day has resurfaced and the pressure is on the saleyards’ owner Gloucester Shire Council to find a solution.

Bowe and Lidbury’s most recent request to be part of the Thursday store sales will be discussed on Friday during its second closed council meeting in two weeks. With Gooch Agencies and Taree Gloucester Livestock (TGL) running the Thursday event for several years, Gloucester Shire Council needs to decide who actually owns the day and whether or not a third party can enter the fray.

The contentious issue has been on and off the agenda since the Maitland based stock and station agent first opened its office in Gloucester around two years ago and subsequently sought to join the store sale at the local council owned yards. Historically however the argument has existed long before that with past agents also trying to get through Thursday’s door.

“Ellis and Butler tried to get in there for years but council said no,” former Ellis and Butler now TGL employee Greg Bennett said.

 “I thought it was unfair. It made it very hard to break ground in Gloucester,” he said.

The Thursday store sales are a result of what mayor John Rosenbaum refers to as “years of hard work building up the buyers and sellers for that particular day.”

“I believe there’s a principle to be held by Gloucester Shire Council, that if you lease something to somebody, surely they would expect you to guarantee that you would not turn around and change it,” Cr Rosenbaum said.

“We lease them the yards, and they should have the right to buy and sell their lease.”

Several years after ‘buying’ former agent Webbs’ Thursday position, Mr Bennett admits that three years later they still struggle to get cattle into Gloucester’s store sales as “Gooch have it covered.”

“We’ll keep on at it, we knew it was going to be a tough area to crack,” he said, adding that they also use the saleyards for other events. He was quick to debunk the rumour making its way around Gloucester that Bowe and Lidbury had bought out TGL, saying that simply was not the case.

“We’re not going anywhere.”

Bowe and Lidbury’s Peter Markey said in the wake of Webbs’ departure, the business saw an opportunity to open an office within Gloucester to service the large number of local clients already on their books.

“We knew to use the saleyards we had to have an agency in town. So we decided to do it.”

Its quest for a role at the Thursday sales was deferred until recently, when the agency finally signed council’s document to use the yards, reviving Bowe and Lidbury’s wish to sell once a month at Thursday’s store sale day.

“Around 2,500 cattle from Gloucester went through the saleyards at Maitland last year; 2,500 were sold locally out of paddocks. That’s 5000 head which have bypassed the local yards,” Mr Markey said, referring to council fees lost per head through the yards as well as the extra trucking charges incurred by the livestock owners to get their cattle to Maitland.

“You’d want to be getting a very good price to cover the cartage,” TGL’s Greg Bennett agreed.

Mr Markey cites several reasons for agents to sell on the same day, including fitting into the store sale calendar with saleyards elsewhere across the region as agents will regularly travel from one sale to another on behalf of multiple clients.

“Also farmers don’t want to come into the cattle yards twice in a week. We’re here to service the clients. Thursday is the day most buyers are going to be there,” he said, adding that it gets the best results for auctions.

 “I understand council’s position about history, but they have to move on and look at maximising the through-put of the yards.”

TGL’s Greg Bennett said that in his opinion, Bowe and Lidbury should be allowed in on Thursday.

“It’s a tough one. A business would have to have some history preferably. Bowe and Lidbury have a fair bit of history. But to have someone just open up, I don’t think that’s fair,” he said.

“There’s a certain amount of cattle in Gloucester and that’s it. If you let too many in you’re going to cause trouble for other agents and too much competition can be hurtful to be market so you have to draw a line somewhere but I don’t know where.”

He added that council manages the yards well, but a clearly defined procedure for participation needed to be drawn up.

Cr Rosenbaum wants it left as an agreement between the agents and believes that “you always pay some goodwill to get into any business.”

“Bowe and Lidbury understands that a new agency should make some financial contribution to enable them to sell in the yards if that is the decision by council,” Mr Markey said carefully.

But the question then arises as to who that money is paid to and who has the right to sell it.

“Who should get the goodwill payment, is it the owner of the saleyards or is it the stakeholder who has built it up?” asked council’s general manager Danny Green, adding that councillors deferred their decision last week to review its current strategy to “optimise returns to the community from the saleyards.”

 “I’d like to see a resolution... We’ve yet to hear from council,” Mr Markey said.

James Gooch from Gooch Agencies declined to comment.

While it awaits a decision, Friday is shaping up to be a busy one, with Bowe and Lidbury’s first store sale for female cattle this Friday (February 26) at Gloucester Saleyards and council’s next closed meeting to discuss the issue of Thursday access.