THE farming community of South Lakeland breathed a collective sigh of relief this week when Kendal’s new auction mart held its first livestock sale after years of planning delays and months of contractual wrangling.

Although the financial dispute between site owner L&K Group and the developer remains unresolved, North West Auctions was finally able to move to the new mart on Tuesday, releasing its old Appleby Road mart for much-needed housing.

The first sale at the new facility attracted lots of interest, with more than 200 farmers attending - even though a good number of them weren’t actually buying or selling.

Farmers are known for speaking their minds and apart from the odd comment about ‘teething troubles’ they appeared happy with the new mart - not least the impressive canteen facilities.

At a time when upland farming is under pressure from weather and disease-related problems and uncertainty over CAP reform, farmers will be understandably keen to see how such a new centre can help improve the lot of their industry.

One way this can be achieved is if the auction mart attracts more farmer clients and a new influx of livestock buyers from a wider area, which would help create more competition and keep prices buoyant.

Situated so close to the M6, the Crooklands mart is certainly in a prime location.

And with a range of commercial units for agriculture-based businesses, it has the potential to become a major livestock farming centre for the North West.

It is certainly a handy location for hill farmers from the Lakes, the Dales and the Bowland hills, where the excellence and provenance of the livestock is second to none, allowing buyers to purchase with confidence.

And confidence is what is needed more than ever as consumers continue to reel from the shock of the horse meat scandal.

Cumbrian farmers could well benefit as consumers turn their backs on processed meat products and instead demand assured quality beef.

If that happens, then the future of the new auction mart could also look just as assured.