Aid package for livestock marts should be considered ‘a matter of urgency’ – ICOS

A dedicated grant-aid package for livestock marts should be considered “a matter of urgency” for Minister of Agriculture, Food and the Marine Barry Cowen.

This is according to the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society (ICOS) marts executive Ray Doyle. He said the closure of livestock marts during Covid-19 restrictions has “threatened the viability of marts across the country”.

“Livestock marts were one of the only agriculture-related businesses to have their businesses closed by the government during the Covid-19 restrictions, during the busiest time of the year for all marts.”

He explained the consequences of the closure:

This resulted in a major loss of income that will probably not be replaced during 2020. We now need the government to support the marts with a new dedicated stimulus package, focused on mart operations.

According to Doyle, the stimulus package would assist marts to invest in the necessary infrastructure so they could continue to operate in any future pandemic.

“Covid-19 will be with us for many months, possibly years and it is anticipated that we will see enforced regional lockdowns as the virus peaks in different parts of the country.

“We are calling on the Minister for Agriculture to ring-fence funding for a stimulus package that will allow marts to maintain an online system to facilitate continued trading in any future lockdown.

Setting up online is an expensive process, but maintaining it is even more so. We also need to see more urgency to the rural broadband scheme and immediate investment in broadband connections.

“Many marts have struggled to get the appropriate level of broadband connection to run the three major suppliers of software to the marts and on the other trading end of this potential purchasers and sellers of livestock need good connection speeds to complete sales.”

Review of the 2m rule

Doyle also called for a review of the 2m social distancing rule imposed in marts. He argued that it was “disruptive to operations and that like other sectors, marts should be allowed to operate to a 1m social distance”.

“Minister Cowen needs to investigate whether marts should operate as the hospitality sector and have a lower limit of at least 1m in place for 90 minutes.

“Many marts could easily operate on a series of breaks every 90 minutes and reconvene sales thereby protecting employees and visitors.”

Doyle explained:

We currently have an unsustainable situation where you can sit at a 1m distance in mart canteens, which are operated by independent contractors, but then have to sit 2m apart ringside.

“It makes no sense, particularly when we are currently recording names and times of entry into marts to ensure prompt contact-tracing.”

Doyle added: “Farmers nationally have now seen the true value of the local mart and current trading figures from marts have shown large sales during June which was unheard of in other years, as farmers buying or selling had stalled their trading until the marts re-opened.

“Marts are essential to the fabric of rural Ireland and many who were isolated over the last three months need the social interaction the mart offers.

“It is imperative that the new Minister for Agriculture recognises the role of livestock marts and secures funding for a stimulus package,” he concluded.