While saleyard restrictions caused by COVID-19 have reduced the number of people on the rails at livestock markets, the pandemic has led to an incredible surge in popularity for online selling platforms.
AuctionsPlus chief executive officer Angus Street said while there had been a steady rise in popularity in the past few years, the number of stock moving through the platform this year had "skyrocketed", largely due to COVID-19, a better season in many areas, and good prices.
On the commercial side, more than 22,000 head of cattle from SA vendors have been sold on the platform in the 2019-20 period - a 160 per cent increase on the 9000 cattle sold in 2018-19, with many coming from South East properties.
The sheep market has also experienced good growth in AuctionsPlus sales, with more than 488,000 sheep sold in the 2019-20 financial year in SA, compared with 378,000 in 2018-19.
Mr Street said the growth in the past few months in particular had been encouraging, with COVID-19 having caused many buyers and sellers to look online.
"Over the last six months, the adoption of the technology has been fantastic, producers have become a lot more accustomed to digital technologies, and I think the most innovative of Australians is the Australian farmer," he said.
Mr Street said the good season in many parts of the state, as well as good commercial prices, had helped to increase the numbers of stock going through AuctionsPlus, with many stud owners also jumping on board to help discover new clients.
There is always going to be a spot for the live auctions, this is just giving people another opportunity, we just want to make life easier for our cattle and sheep producers across the country.
"Online platforms obviously provide a channel for existing clients to bid safely in this COVID-19 world, but it's also definitely the opportunity to discover new buyers. It's as much a marketing platform as it is a selling channel - people are coming to the website and discovering new studs and new genetics every day of the week," he said.
Mr Street said SA had always been one of the major users of AuctionsPlus from a seedstock perspective, and a number of SA sheep studs were likely to be first time users this year.
"We have a strong cattle footprint in SA and nationally, but there are some amazing sheep studs in SA, and while we are involved with a number of them already, being able to bring more studs to a national audience through the platform is something we're really excited about," he said.
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AuctionsPlus isn't the only online platform to have experienced impressive growth this year, with a number of alternatives also enjoying more users in the past six months.
Specialising in stud sales, Elite Livestock Auctions was launched in February 2016, and was used at 56 stud sales in its inaugural year. At the moment, the platform is averaging 20 stud sales a week, according to founder Chris Norris.
"We're in the case now where people want to expose their products to a global audience, and with the current travel restrictions around the place and the limited number of people that attend sales, many people are looking at alternative means and using online platforms," he said.
"Phone bidding was a thing of the past, now online bidding is the thing of the future."
Owned by the Agricultural Asset Management Investment group, which also has a platform called Stocklive specifically to support saleyard auctions, Elite Livestock Auctions promotes the fast-paced auction method, by allowing for live simulcast bidding, where online ELA users can see the sale ring, hear the auctioneers, and also access pre-recorded videos of each animal
"AuctionsPlus has paved the way for a company like ours to come along, our focus has been promoting that live traditional sale method," he said.
Mr Norris said while the use of online platforms allowed for more clients to participate in sales, it was a "helpful addition" to a physical buyer presence, rather than a replacement.
"We don't want to take away from those people going to the sale on sale day, and the camaraderie on sale day, where people come and get involved," he said.
Farmgate Auctions is one of the newest online livestock selling platforms, being established in October. Less than a year on, the company has close to 2000 registrations.
Farmgate Auctions national sales manager Jock Gosse said having a number of online platform options available was healthy competition, and he hoped online bidding would continue successfully.
"Twenty to 24pc of agents in the country use an online platform, and I hope that increases with some new ones about, because there is plenty of room for more than one platform.
"There is always going to be a spot for the live auctions, this is just giving people another opportunity, we just want to make life easier for our cattle and sheep producers across the country," he said.
The numbers have just catapulted, and that's pretty much seasonally-driven I think.
Those using Farmgate Auctions to sell commercial lines can sell stock in a saleyard-like fashion, without stock leaving the paddock, with multiple vendors contributing to each sale.
Vendors upload photos and information about their stock, and set a reserve price for each line. The auctions are timed, with the times for those that have reached reserve continuing to count down, going up by 10 seconds whenever a new bid is placed.
The countdown for lines that have not reached their reserve are frozen with 10 minutes to go, with bidding resuming after the lots that have reached their reserve price have been sold.
"It's really popular for guys who have an order to fill, they've got another 10 minutes to go through whatever lots are left and fill their order and truck," Mr Gosse said.
Mr Gosse said the platform was initially used to sell commercial sheep and cattle, some stud sales had also come on-board.
GOOD SEASON DRIVES UP DEMAND
ELDERS livestock account manager and accredited AuctionsPlus sheep and cattle assessor Bruce Cameron said the increasing popularity of online livestock selling platforms was caused as much by the good season as it was by saleyard restrictions.
"It's been an alternative selling platform and going very well for a couple of years now, and it has certainly gained momentum with the big rain and change of season in NSW, Vic and parts of Qld," he said.
"All of a sudden that market has gone through the roof due to the buoyant season, and for producers far away, AuctionsPlus has been an option to hit that marketplace rather than truck their cattle to the saleyard.
"Even before COVID-19 hit, the AuctionsPlus weaner sale on Friday was hitting 22,000 cattle - the numbers have just catapulted, and that's pretty much seasonally-driven I think."
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Mr Cameron said buyers needed to be aware that prices would not be uniform across the country.
"People read the price that stock are making at Wagga Wagga, NSW, and assume their own should be the same price.
"But it's a different location, a smaller mob, different breed quality in terms of genetics, and that's a bit of a roadblock that producers and agents have got to overcome, that they still price their stock accordingly.
"With a lot of new people using the system, the description of stock can sometimes be inadequate. Because the market is so buoyant, those areas are probably getting overcome, but people still need to describe the stock accurately to make the system work well," he said.
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