Level 5: Late-night selling and broadband woes…the struggles and successes for marts

As the country adjusts to lockdown for a second time under Level 5 of the Plan for Living with Covid-19, the work of the farming community continues, with tweaks made to how things are operating in some areas, such as the buying and selling of livestock.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has directed that under Level 5 livestock marts adjust their operations, as follows:
  • Sales rings are to remain closed – marts may facilitate online sales;
  • Marts must put a drop and go policy in place for sellers. This means that farmers or their representatives may deliver livestock to the mart by appointment and must then depart from the mart premises. Where feasible, farmers or their representatives should remain in their vehicle while on the mart premises, and mart staff should unload and load livestock and take passports;
  • Marts must arrange that individual appointment times are allocated to individual buyers to view or collect livestock. Buyers should attend the mart on their own, without accompaniment.

Gortatlea Mart in Ballymacelligott, Co. Kerry, brought its Annual Dairy Show and Sale forward a day this week, holding it yesterday (Wednesday, October 21).

Speaking to AgriLand today following the sale, mart manager Maurice Brosnan said it was “one of the biggest sales of the year” – and it ended past 1:00am this morning (Thursday), having began at 11:30am on Wednesday.

While acknowledging that panic ahead of Level 5 restrictions contributed to such a big sale of “over 120 in-calf and calved heifers and cows”, he has assured farmers that there is “no need to be stressed out”.

“The restrictions are ludicrous, but things will work out. Trade stayed steady and I’m hopeful for what is to come.”

A concern that has been raised by a number of TDs is that poor broadband connection and lack of internet access may inhibit farmers from participating in online sales.

However, ahead of the 37th annual Lisduff Sale on Saturday (October 24), Victor O’Sullivan says that, largely, the farming sector is “unaffected” by restrictions.

“I suppose there has been precedent there in that the marts have been running online sales for quite a while and it has been very successful in many cases,” O’Sullivan said.

For the 37th annual Lisduff Sale of calved and in-calf heifers, which is going ahead at Corrin Mart in Fermoy, bidding will be online only and buyers are permitted to travel on the morning of the sale. Viewing is from 9:00am to 11:30am and the sale begins at 12:00pm.

O’Sullivan says that, by and large, members of the farming community are “very good adapters of technology” and will have “absolutely no problem embracing the whole concept of online bidding”.

“I think it’s something that’s here to stay and there’s no going back from it,” O’Sullivan continued.

It’s always a concern that maybe some people won’t be able to participate that normally would. We would have a lot of returning customers every year and a lot of them have made contact with us and queried how the sale is going to run.

“I think most people are able to adapt; obviously we’d prefer to have people able to attend and be on the side of the ring and bid but they’re still going to have the opportunity to attend that mart – they’ll be able to walk up and down through the pens to see the heifers – the only change is that they’ll be bidding online.”

‘Good stock will always sell’

O’Sullivan said there is an increased number of animals for sale this year – 118 adult heifers – including about 30 heifers milking at the moment; six heifers that are due to calve within the next fortnight; 82 heifers to calve in January/February; and approximately 25 autumn-born heifer calves.

“We think we have a pretty good package put together and we’re feeling positive,” he said.

“The demand is quite good out there, we’ve gotten a lot of queries and even as late as the last few evenings I had people looking for photographs of specific heifers. I think the market is good out there and good stock will always sell.

“This is our 37th sale; it’s part of our tradition and we know the value of putting a good heifer out there.”