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People crowded around the pens at the Omarama saleyards on Thursday morning to see what the stock looked like and how much animals fetched.
The top ewe lambs, half-breds from Longslip Station, made $150. That was not far below the $163 achieved in 2019 by Federated Farmers North Otago chairman Simon Williamson.
Dohnes from Waitangi Station made the best money for wether lambs: $128.
Peter Walsh and Associates livestock broker Madison Taylor said half-a-dozen lines of lambs for breeding sold from $135 to $150.
He was "pretty happy" with the way the sale went overall, and said prices were ‘‘pretty firm’’ for the good animals.
The smaller lambs sold, as expected, down towards $50.
The large gallery helped to create buoyancy in the auction process, Mr Taylor said.
This year’s first pen was offered by Omarama’s Ben Dhu Station. The leading lot was chosen according to interest in the vendors’ livestock, whose looked best, and ensuring the top breeders took turn about, he said.
The Tekapo lamb sale, held on Thursday afternoon, was not as buoyant as Omarama’s but the top lambs were definitely of better quality, Mr Taylor said.
The Omarama lambs had mostly been reared on dryland properties, whereas the Tekapo ones had had more irrigation and therefore better pasture.
Mr Taylor estimated the average Omarama price was about $85, and Tekapo’s about $90.
The crowd was considerably smaller at the afternoon sale; there were more than 100 buyers registered at Omarama, and only about 40 at Tekapo.
Farmers were not buying to kill this year, but for next spring, Mr Taylor said.
He believed there was ‘‘optimism’’ in the industry.
However, Mr Williamson was concerned by the lack of confidence among sheep farmers, despite prices being better than he had ever seen them.
Farmers were "dumbstruck" by the pressures they were under from multiple sources including banks, the Government, and to meet environmental regulations.
The demands were a cost to farmers, in time and stress, as well as financially.
"It’s a worrying time."
No-one knew how the coronavirus situation would play out, but dairy auction prices had already fallen, he said.
"We’ve got ourselves in the situation where we’re reasonably reliant on China."
Meat processing companies were doing a lot of work to secure other markets, including in North America and India, Mr Williamson said.
Rural service towns were "hurting" and the lack of income from tourism this season was "quite dire, really".
That was compounded on the West Coast by road closures.
"A lot of it is out of our control.
"Some of the banks have changed their outlook in the last 12 months."
Mr Williamson was surprised there had not been more financiers entering the market.
"New Zealand is very stable... From an outside point of view, there’s money to be made."