Weekly genetics review: Selling bulls amid COVID-19

Genetics editor Alastair Rayner, 14/04/2020

IF ANYONE was to predict that in 2020 a global health crisis would occur, forcing the country into unprecedented moves to halt the spread of a new virus, most people would have scoffed at something so unlikely.  Four months into 2020, the impact of the Covid-19 crisis has seen the closure of public events, restrictions on gatherings and personal interaction and closure of state borders.

As the autumn bull sales wind to a close, the restrictions on public gatherings have possibly not been as significant as some may have first feared. However, with the spring bull selling season fast approaching, many bull breeders and commercial cattlemen are wondering what changes will be required in order to promote the animals and hold sales, either on-farm or online.

Focus on relationships

Sam White

While there are many people quick to highlight the opportunities to embrace online marketing, there are perhaps some simple points which shouldn’t be overlooked. The most significant of these is to focus on relationships with clients.

Sam White, principal of Bald Blair Angus in Guyra NSW, is one breeder who stresses the importance of strengthening and building client relationships.

“We will definitely be using online as part of this year’s sales,” he said, “but over the past five or six years, we really have wanted to build closer and stronger relationships with the people who buy our bulls.”

While Bald Blair will press on with a physical sale next spring (details below), Sam White plans to offer greater opportunities for clients to visit his operation near Guyra ahead of this year’s fixture, and to provide them with the opportunity to assess bulls in a way that allows social distancing to be observed, while still allowing discussion and sharing of opinion on this year’s bull group.

“We really want people to feel they can eye-ball assess prior to the sale, and I guess the value in having a strong relationship means they can ring us up and talk to us about their plans and the bulls they want to see,” he said.

At Orange in the NSW Central West, Gavin and Christie O’Brien operate the Winchester Charolais stud. Gavin describes their program as a people-focussed business.

“We focus on trying to have an understanding of our client’s needs.  That takes time and trust, but it means we now have people who ring us up and take our suggestions on the bulls that best suit them.”

Both Sam and Gavin share the view that the challenge for seedstock producers is to focus on maintaining stronger relationships with clients. Ahead of the 2020 spring sales, their common view is social restrictions may not really be the ‘limiting factor’ in overall success this year.

“Let’s not forget that most people are now only coming back from the drought, or fires.  For some, this season could have gone either way,” Mr O’Brien said. “So, the demand for bulls is going to be driven largely by the number of cows that people are looking to join.”

He suggested that the trend towards more established programs with larger client bases would continue this year. “I think that there will be a lot of demand for those bulls with high accuracy for calving ease and birth weight, with more heifers being joined this year.”

Ahead of his annual Bald Blair sale, Sam White expects the number of calls and one-to-one visits will increase.

“For us, we will make sure that our clients know we have made arrangements to allow the pre-sale inspections to happen. While the online bidding components is important, having a large area for us to sell in will help us provide a venue that allows for the recommended distancing between people. It will probably mean we will have a core of buyers who choose to attend in person, who will be focussed on getting their chosen bulls,” he said.

Engaging with buyers, in the absence of industry gatherings

With the postponement of many national shows, as well as events such as Casino Beef Week, many producers are casting about for alternative ways to generate interest and awareness of the bulls they hope to offer this year.

Speaking with several marketing specialists, I’ve been told this week that a presence online is only the first stage of a successful awareness and promotion campaign.

“Everyone is now online with pictures and videos, so it will be a very competitive space. To stand out, marketing materials need to be well thought-out, have good images and targeted at the right audience. A simple Facebook post may not be enough,” one stud stock marketing specialist said.

“Producers need to be engaged both at a personal level and digitally with their clients. So, it’s important to know them, their goals and needs and to provide information that suits these needs.”

While many producers are less able to travel to visit breeders pre-sale, given travel restrictions across borders, independent advice from agents and consultants is emerging as an alternative or additional information source to online images and data.

Before engaging an independent source of information, it’s important that producers consider what advice they want to receive. This requires having a clear set of breeding objectives, and defined criteria for new bulls.

As the national approach to Covid-19 evolves, its impact on the capacity of producers to travel is likely to change. While this may make it easier to attend traditional methods of sale in the future, in the short term, the consensus for most breeders is to focus on maintaining and building communication with clients.

Strong focus should be on not only the bulls in the program, but on the arrangements in place to allow pre-sale inspections or advice on external assessments and online marketing options.

It is important to also remember not all producers feel comfortable buying or even accessing online-only sales. Several breeders have already considered how they can help provide some training and introduction to online marketing as part of their pre-sale preparations this year.

Equally, producers looking for bulls should start considering their needs early and make plans well ahead of any sales where they want to conduct their own physical inspections. This extra time will be essential in making these inspections happen in a timely manner.


Alastair Rayner

Alastair Rayner is the Principal of RaynerAg, an agricultural advisory service based in NSW.  He regularly attends bull sales to support client purchases and undertakes pre sale selections and classifications.  He can be contacted here or through his website













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