End of an era as Smith places final saleyard bid

End of an era as Smith places final saleyard bid


NEW PATH: Thomas Foods International's Phil Heinrich, retiring TFI buyer Ian Smith and TFI livestock manager Paul Leonard at Mr Smith's final sheep market at Dublin last month.

NEW PATH: Thomas Foods International's Phil Heinrich, retiring TFI buyer Ian Smith and TFI livestock manager Paul Leonard at Mr Smith's final sheep market at Dublin last month.

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The retirement of Thomas Foods International livestock buyer Ian Smith will mark the end of his family's 70 year-long presence at saleyards across the state.

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The retirement of Thomas Foods International livestock buyer Ian Smith will mark the end of his family's 70 year-long presence at saleyards across the state.

After growing up on a family farm between Gawler and Sandy Creek, Ian realised working with livestock was his passion.

"My dad, Max, was a livestock buyer for 55 years," he said.

"I became a junior livestock buyer at Gepps Cross saleyard and I did that for 28 years."

Ian's uncles Bruce, Alton and Dean Smith were livestock agents, and Bruce's sons Murray, Greg and Geoff were also livestock buyers and auctioneers.

"There was always someone from the Smith family at saleyards," he said.

As a junior buyer, Ian also completed an apprenticeship to grade meat at the abattoir.

"The animals were slaughtered and I graded them to be sold to local butchers," he said.

"I would also clerk the market, unload trucks and in the early days, muster pigs out of the market too."

Throughout a career that spanned more than 40 years, Ian attended livestock markets in SA and Vic.

He bought sheep at Loxton, Snowtown, Murray Bridge, Ouyen, Vic, Hamilton, Vic, Maitland, Gepps Cross and Dublin, but most of these once bustling markets have now "fallen by the wayside".

Ian said a lack of livestock numbers had forced saleyard closures.

"A lot of farmers changed to cropping, it seemed to be the start of producers gaining more return on cropping than livestock," he said.

"But in the past six years, it has swung back around with good sheep prices but people are still not getting back into the job like they were back then."

Ian worked for Metro Meats until the Murray Bridge processing plant was sold to T&R Pastoral.

"Chris Thomas asked me to work for T&R - I was there for seven years," he said.

Ian then became a commissioned buyer for wholesalers, including Tatiara Meat Company, for four years, until JBS Australia took ownership.

Ian returned to TFI about 3.5 years ago and he "could not have finished up in a better place".

He believed it was a "well-timed" opportunity to sign-off on his career as a livestock buyer, to help young industry leaders gain "front position" while bidding at saleyards.

Ian said the most important lesson he had learned throughout his career was "reputation was everything".

"Being ethical and in line with your morals is important - you have to be honest about prices and supply fluctuations with producers and your employer," he said.

'Trust network' survives decades

AFTER more than 40 years in the livestock industry, saleyard regular Ian Smith might be leaving his job behind but his family's long-lasting legacy will remain.

Ian began his career as a junior livestock buyer for Metro Meats in 1973 and last month, he retired and attended his final sheep market as a Thomas Foods International livestock buyer.

The Smith family have worked in the livestock buying industry for seven decades, beginning with Ian's grandfather Vernon.

Ian said a love of livestock and building lasting friendships with the industry's "colourful characters" was a main driver behind the family's dedication to the industry.

"The inbuilt trust network between our family was a major part of our survival in the industry," he said.

Ian said he had witnessed significant changes within the industry during his career.

"Technology advancements and options for producers to sell their livestock were the biggest changes I saw in my time," he said.

"In the early days, we did a lot of on-farm buying but these days within a few seconds of a price being released, producers have access to it online."

Ian said about 25 years ago, he would visit 20 vendors in a day to offer a price.

"That was one of the biggest challenges - offering a price to farmers and then having to barter and eventually come to a deal," he said.

"It then changed to over-the-hooks and forward contracts."

- VANESSA BINKS

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