A Hawke's Bay livestock marketing company's customer base has grown by more than 1100 per cent in a week as farmers and traders look for options to sell animals in the Covid-19 crisis.

The explosion has come with the need to close sale yards throughout the country during the lockdown.

StockX was established in 2015 and entered the online auction marketplace about nine months ago, revolutionising the way cows, sheep and other livestock are traded.

But it now finds itself an essential service with stock still needing to be traded despite the shutting down of Hastings' Stortford Lodge and other sales yards and rings because of the restrictions imposed during the Covid-19 lockdown.

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Many are now wondering if the yards may follow the fate of the Waipukurau yards, once the scene of some of the biggest sheep sales in the world and which closed down permanently 10 years ago. They wonder if they reopen how and how long they can survive?

Stortford Lodge sale yards, with gates closed in the Covid-19 lockdown. PHOTO /Warren Buckland
Stortford Lodge sale yards, with gates closed in the Covid-19 lockdown. PHOTO /Warren Buckland

StockX managing director Jason Roebuck doesn't know the answer, but says experience is that the traders, farmers and livestock agents who register with the online auction platform "tend to come back" after trying it for the first time.

"I don't know what the world will look like going forward," he said. "But that's the uncertainty everyone faces."

Farmer and historical writer Ewan McGregor says there've already been vast changes in sale methods, along with the dwindling livestock population – less than half the sheep and cattle at peak of 1982.

"Now there are new methods to exchange stock on a weight basis and using electronics," he said. "No surprises there; we live in a changing world.

"Accordingly the Waipukurau sale yards, one of the biggest in its day, is no more and Stortford Lodge keeps shrinking – and occupying tempting real estate," said McGregor, writer of a recently-published history of now-gone Hawke's Bay and East Coast stock and station firm Williams and Kettle.

Roebuck said with the sale yards locked down, the registration of accounts with StockX – from Kaitaia to Bluff – had "gone through the roof".

Overlaying that is the restrictions on processing plants amid the crisis on top of the impact of the drought.

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He said in a letter to the industry that with the country in lockdown "the last thing anyone wants to worry about is getting food on the table".

StockX was classified as an essential service provider with MPI, and was "open, available and ready to help" get stock moving through the supply chain.

The online livestock marketplace is open 24/7, with staff working from homes to meet the needs of farmers, livestock, agencies and processors .

"Farmers are already working through some tough environmental conditions," Roebuck said.

"Processors are also under pressure. We're doing our bit by minimising disruptions in the supply chain through connecting agents, farmers and processors seamlessly – from one end of the country to the other."

He said while Covid-19 was forcing big changes across communities "… we're not letting it change what farmers do best – produce some of the best meat and dairy in the world, for the world."