Saleyards are a very interesting topic.
My thoughts as to what they are worth: Over the years we’ve seen expansion of supermarkets, which has seen independent retail butchers shops diminish greatly at the same time the retraction of number of processors.
In 1998 in Australia we have three foreign processors controlling 28% of the processing. Now in 2016 three processors control 60% of the beef processing, whilst supermarkets control 80% of the retail market.
Supermarkets generally shy away from saleyards and processors only use saleyards as a top up.
One of the most important facts in all this debate is nobody can tell the processors or supermarkets or anybody else where they can purchase their stock.
If I was a processor or supermarket I would shy away from saleyards. Consider the facts. If the buyer gets it wrong, too much fat, too little fat or the beast turns out to be bruised it is your bad luck.
The simple fact is once you have a beast in your works, buying over the hooks, with its head cut off the producer is not in a position to take that carcass home. This means that the company and the company grader are judge, jury and executioner all rolled into one. It should be remembered that the company grader is very much at the whim of his employer and would be a game employee to go against his boss. If a producer has a problem it is too late. The animal will be boned, boxed and gone before the producer realises they have a problem and there is no way of assessing if there is a problem.
One producer told me that I had the prices wrong and dressing percentage when comparing to the US. The simple fact is that under Australian agreed standards the processor can remove kidney fat, kidneys, channel fat, udder fat and skirts, all legal under AusMeat. This is not tolerated in the US. Add to this the whizzer knives, not so legal if they trim too much, all prior to scales.
If a beast is not cut down the exact middle and one side weighs more than the other severe discounts will be applied despite the fact that the two sides will yield the same of saleable meat and go in the same box.
Butt shape is another way they discount. Get a grader to pick a primal coming from carcass with poor butt shape after boning is impossible!??
To my way of thinking, rightly or wrongly, saleyards will continue to struggle. The fact is there are many sellers and a reduced number of buyers.
MSA: 100 steers presented for slaughter and 25 graded as MSA pass company specifications while another 60 graded as MSA failed company specifications, 15 failed to grade. If a carcass passes MSA, why would it fail company specifications and be discounted? Who would know?
The processor is not under any obligation, not to sell the meat off the carcasses that failed to meet company specs as an MSA product.
Some producers talk about collusion and, from my point of view, it would be almost impossible to stamp out. Firstly you have to prove it. Again in most cases almost impossible.
The simple fact is the pool of buyers continues to retract and unless we can get stronger laws around selling over the scales, we can expect more of the same.