Opinion

Marts must continue to play a role at the heart of rural Ireland

A visit to the Lake District of England last week set me to thinking about the enhanced role which livestock marts should actually be playing within this country’s beef and livestock sectors.

The specific catalyst for this train of thought was my engaging chat with Cumbrian dairy and beef producer John Bowe. While bemoaning the prospect for farmgate milk returns over the coming months, the former President of the Young Farmers Clubs of Britain expressed a fair degree of optimism for beef prices, certainly during the early months of 2015. However, he made it abundantly clear that he never sold a finished beast to the factory, preferring to use the live ring whenever possible. He firmly believes that this approach forces the factories to actively compete for his stock.

And he is absolutely right. The reality of life in this country is that the factories hold too many of the ace cards when it comes to procuring finished cattle. Yes, beef farmers closed up with TB have no option but to sell their cattle on a deadweights basis. No issue there. But for those farmers not affected with TB, surely the choice to sell finished animals in the live ring is one which they should be grasping with both hands. But, alas, this is not the case, as the new residency criteria put a severe limitation on the number of stock that can be sold live without incurring penalties at time of slaughter.

I know that the marts’ counter argument to the ‘selling live’ option focusses on the cumulative effect of the auctioneers’ fees which are amassed as an animal moves on from farm to farm throughout its lifetime. But hold on a second: selling cattle dead is by far a ‘cheap process’ when one adds up all the fees and levies extracted by the processors.

All of our farm lobby groups keep highlighting the need to develop as many outlets for Irish cattle as possible. I could give a raft of social reasons why the marts, particularly in areas such as the West of Ireland, should be supported. But at a very basic level they represent a potentially important element of competition when it comes to selling stock of all classes. And, as such, they should be actively promoted and further developed.

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