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05 August 2021

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David Pritchard Reflects on Five Decades in Auctioneering

Celebrating nearly 49 years in the livestock and auctioneering industry, and almost 45 years at Harrison & Hetherington, David Pritchard left the business at the end of June this year.

Born and brought up on a hill farm in Herefordshire, David has worked in the auctioneering industry all of his life. Upon leaving school he started his career as a Junior Clerk with a Welsh auctioneering company at Abergavenny, then, in February 1977, he moved north to join Harrison & Hetherington as an Auctioneer, based at Lockerbie Market. Since this time, he has progressed his career through the company, promoted from Senior Auctioneer to General Manager of the farmstock business in 1999, Operations Director in 2001, and latterly Joint Managing Director in June 2018. During his time with Harrison & Hetherington David has seen many changes and experienced many challenges, but whatever he has been faced with he has always remained a passionate, devoted and leading ambassador for the company and the wider livestock and auctioneering industry.

A past president of the Institute of Auctioneers and Appraisers in Scotland, David has been hugely involved in all aspects of auctioneering and valuations. He has accrued an immense knowledge and experience, particularly on operational aspects, during his time at H&H and through working with business partners in the industry.

Here David reflects on over five decades in the auctioneering world.

“I joined H&H just after the company moved to the all-new, purpose built Borderway Mart Centre, next to junction 43 on the M6. Borderway Mart was developed following a move from the two town centre sites of Botchergate Mart and Earl Street Mart in Carlisle. The focus then was very much on developing and expanding Borderway into a leading centre for selling all types of livestock, which included the introduction of many new continental breeds of cattle and sheep. These are now well placed and recognised for national sales at Carlisle for many breed societies. H&H operated four other marts at the time, Lockerbie, Dumfries, Haltwhistle and Newcastleton, and although each mart had its own identity for selling certain types of stock, I carried out rostrum duties at all of these marts.

“During the eighties and early nineties prices and trends were very difficult as finished stock was supported by subsidies from government. Business very much depended on numbers of stock sold. This is where Borderway’s facilities and location provided a strength and was instrumental in attracting further numbers. On many occasions, selling would go on to well into the night.

“In March 1995, BSE was confirmed in cattle which brought about many challenges. The business needed to remain resilient against factors the industry was faced with at the time. Many obstacles and regulations had to be overcome and for a number of years after this event, the whole concept of marketing prime stock was changed – particularly for cattle, and to a lesser degree also sheep. 

“In February 2001 the foot and mouth disease broke out, which brought with it some very dark days. All H&H marts closed for nearly a year and it was a major challenge to keep the business going. This was also a challenge of course for a huge number of farming businesses. It affected many people in many different ways across the industry, both physically and mentally.

“In August 2007 there was another foot and mouth scare again, whereby all movements of stock were stopped for a short period of time. During that autumn many sale fixtures had to be rearranged or formatted to allow them to take place within the autumn season.

“In 1999 H&H commenced operating Broughton-in-Furness Mart, servicing the agricultural community in south Cumbria. Then in July 2002, H&H took over Kirkby Stephen, Lazonby, & St Johns Chapel, which brought many challenges including integration and keeping the support of the farmers to ensure the marts remained successful.

“Latterly, in October 2015, H&H acquired the business of John Swan Ltd. This meant taking over the marts at St Boswells and Wooler, bringing the total number of operating marts within the H&H portfolio to nine. Over the years, there have been many developments or projects upgrading and improving the sites and marts. This will remain the case in the future, to ensure facilities always remain as efficient as they can be.

“Following a successful Beef event at Carlisle in 2005, it was a farmstock board initiative that initially introduced the Expos. I am very proud of all the team involved that has helped deliver these events over the years, for making them as successful as they are today - now recognized as leading industry events. Since the introduction of Borderway Agri Expo in November 2007, the business has now held 23 hugely successful events, including Dairy Expo.

“Computerisation and technology were introduced to the business back in the late eighties and over time, their integration and importance has moved at a significant pace. Today the business now totally relies on technology to conduct all aspects of managing sales.

“Over the last five years or so there was a vision to introduce streaming of live sales and online bidding. Due to the past year’s covid-19 restrictions, this has really come to the forefront of how the business operates. It is pleasing to see how this has emerged as it will capture and hopefully retain the next generation in supporting the auctioneering business.

“Over the last five decades there have also been many changes in the way people develop and integrate themselves into the business. This is hugely important as our people are the business, and it is always important to ensure the next generation are developed to keep the continuity of a thriving enterprise.”

Of course, as we look to the future there will be challenges ahead, these will include trade agreements versus import and export tariffs and exports to Northern Ireland and EU. I also believe that to keep our marts vibrant and alive it is vital that we work with the next generation to ensure that we continue to support live auctions and I know that this is something that the team at Harrison & Hetherington are constantly developing.  

David concludes: “It has been an immense privilege to lead and be involved with such an incredible business. Harrison & Hetherington is a company which continues to grow from strength to strength and the aim has always been to provide a vital service to the farming community, together with industry partners from across the UK and further afield.

“I feel very proud and privileged to have worked with the H&H team and all our customers for so many years. I wish everyone continued success in the future.”