The UK’s ‘livestock eBay’ aims to disrupt ag trade by going into genetics

Hectare Agritech chief executive Doug Bairner says the company’s online marketplace is now used by 25% of UK farms and will launch in at least one European country next year.

SellMyLivestock, the UK’s largest online livestock marketplace, last week launched a new genetics platform on which farmers and genetics companies can list semen and embryos of dairy and beef breeds.

The move is the latest by Hectare Agritech, a Portsmouth-based group that has made its name by launching digital marketplaces that link livestock and grain farmers to their downstream supply chains. These two markets represent £12 billion ($15.8 billion; €13.6 billion) in the UK alone, according to the company.

Hectare was founded by Dan Luff, a beef farmer, and Jamie McInnes, a web developer who married into an arable farming background, after both witnessed first-hand how costly and inefficient the physical trade of livestock and grain was in the UK, Hectare chief executive Doug Bairner told Agri Investor.

Luff, for instance, found himself dependent on a physical market located 150 miles away from his farm, implying day-long trips, stressed animals and his stock’s potential exposure to disease carried by other herds. Being so far from the market also meant he faced difficult decisions when prices did not suit him.

SML connects willing buyers with sellers, avoiding “wasted conversations and wasted travel,” said Bairner. The platform currently boasts 36,000 users – equivalent to 25 percent of UK farms – and adds about 1,000 members a month.

Physical deliveries are arranged by farmers, either via trailers (when they are small) or haulers (when they are not). For now, SML is a marketplace; but Bairner said the company is working on adding hauling services to the platform. It also intends to launch in at least one European country next year. The CEO did not disclose which was likely to be first in line.

The group also has a payment platform called FarmPay, helping to secure transactions: most deals were previously settled by check, implying a risk for parties involved in the transaction. As far as genetics is concerned, switching to an online platform makes a lot of sense, said FarmPay Manager Bertie Steggles, as such trade is very data-driven. Allowing for online search will give it a big boost, he reckons.

The group’s objective, Bairner noted, was to make the market more liquid by streamlining trade. “Whether that efficiency goes into better prices for the buyer or better bottom-lines for the seller, who knows. All we are interested in is that we’re driving that efficiency through the whole industry.”