MAINTAINING a fair and transparent system of marketing livestock has been a long-standing cause for Rob Addison - and never more so than during the last decade at the helm of Hexham and Northern Marts.

Sustaining a vibrant live auction system in order to help cattle and sheep producers get a fair price faces tougher challenges, particularly with a contracting livestock and farming industry - and now with further changes ahead in farm support schemes.

However, Hexham Mart continues to hold its own, selling more sheep than in recent memory. During a busy October the mart sold a record number of sheep, and this high continued with 8,000 store sheep and cast ewes forward for the sale in mid-November as well as good numbers of store cattle.

“We’re always trying to find new customers - both buyers and sellers. It’s a competitive world,” said Rob, who became managing director in June 2010.

“As well as trying to maintain a share of a shrinking market - the national beef herd continues to decline - we are also in competition with deadweight sales,” said Rob.

The livestock auctioneering business has seen big changes since the mart company at Hexham was founded in 1880, with Rob’s late mother Margaret’s family, the Ivesons, involved from the outset and Rob’s maternal grandfather Arthur being an auctioneer.

Rob’s roots are also in farming - his brothers Chris and Johnny have followed their late father Steele’s long-established roots in the old county of Westmorland into farming at Kings Meaburn, near Penrith.

Rob’s career took a different path, although he still runs beef cows and sheep on his 100-acre farm at Kings Meaburn, where he lives with his wife Wendy, who is creative and licensing manager at Enesco, the Carlisle-based gift company.

On leaving school he applied for a job at Hexham mart - but he was turned down - and he went on to start his career at Borderway Mart, getting a good grounding as a trainee auctioneer.

Rob decided on a career in livestock auctioneering and after six months at Harrison & Hetherington, Carlisle, after he left school he studied rural estate management at the Royal Agricultural University at Cirencester.

He then spent six months working for Dalgety in New Zealand within the auction market system before returning home.

“I started with an auctioneering apprenticeship working in the post room and on the yard and other general duties. I remember my first day getting a severe telling off by Leslie Bell for the way I was handling a sheep going into the ring. I was so upset I nearly left there and then,” said Rob.

For the next decade from the mid 1980s the livestock auctioneering industry was booming, with a huge throughput at Borderway and the company’s other markets giving Rob the opportunity to sell all types of livestock, travelling to centres and farms throughout the North-West.

“I sold everything from horses to cars at various marts and conducted farm sales throughout the area. It was a good grounding,” he said.

During his time at Harrison & Hetherington the livestock industry faced difficult times with the backlash of the BSE crisis in 1996 and then the foot-and-mouth epidemic in 2001.

Rob was sales director at H&H when he was offered the role of managing director at Hexham in 2010. “We’ve got a great team at Hexham. Drew Patrick recently received a national award for young auctioneer of the year, which was a great fillip for the company and we have recently started a new trainee auctioneer, Jack Walton, whose family roots are in auctioneering.

“It’s about providing a service for both the vendor and the purchaser - and still being in business in the next half of the century.”

The mart at Tyne Green, Hexham, was built in 1995 and the company still maintains its mart at Scots Gap and furniture sales in Rothbury.

To help keep the business viable, without losing the focus on the key business of livestock sales, in 2016 Rob oversaw the sale of land at Hexham which had been earmarked for development for many years and the subsequent re-investment in Hexham Racecourse.

“Hexham is still a rural racecourse and a lot of our customers are racegoers,” said Rob. “This diversification which was a successful business and included 220 acres of land is providing another source of income under the management of Robert Whitelock and it has helped add to the income and the company assets.”

A more recent development in early 2019, Hexham and Northern Marts partnered with YoungsRPS, the rural based chartered surveyor and property consultancy, to offer an improved service to local farmers by offering advisory services from an office at the mart.

The partnership followed a long history of operation for both companies, dovetailing with the range of services that the mart offers such as completion of rural payment forms and all environmental grant schemes, together with grazing agreements, farm and machinery sales.

Rob has worked hard to promote the livestock auctioneering system in England and Wales. He is a past chairman of the Cumbria Association of Livestock Auctioneers.

In 2012 he took on the role of chairman of the national organisation, the Livestock Auctioneers’ Association, and he continues to be a committee member.

“For us, ensuring that our members and our customers continue to thrive means that we have to invest too. One example of this is looking at the training of auctioneers,” he said.

For 25 years Rob was secretary of the Dick Harrison Trust, set up in memory of the late auctioneer and managing director of Harrison & Hetherington to support the training of auctioneers or those in rural estate management. He continues to be a trustee.

Rob was a keen rugby player and Wendy is a former county netball player. Their sons James, 24, who works at home and for a local contracting company, and Richard, 22, who is a trainee land agent, are keen football and rugby players respectively.