Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the way farmers have been trading cattle at online marts over the past year has certainly seen some of the age-old traditions remodelled, and upgraded.

Farmers had to stop staring into cattle rings, and instead start staring into a computer screen or mobile phone.

In one aspect, marts were fortunate to be able to turn to the use of online trading, as it allowed these businesses to keep operating, albeit, under new guidelines.

From the farmers’ point of view, some were simply glad to be able to buy cattle once again. However, it took time for a number of farmers to get into the swing of things, and know exactly how to log in and press the right button to buy their cattle.

Like most people during this pandemic, farmers missed the social aspect and comradery of their weekly mart. It was the go-to point for catching up on the latest news from around the area, and this had an impact on their mental health.

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Image taken prior to Covid-19 guidelines

Taking a look back at the trade itself, many mart managers have come to the conclusion that the online platform has aided the price of cattle due to new customers from around the country being able to log in and purchase.

As we approach the one year anniversary of marts operating solely through the use of online trading, Agriland spoke with some mart managers to get their views of its performance for farmers.

Stephen Hannon – Aurivo Marts

Speaking with Stephen Hannon, general manager of Aurivo Marts, about the use of online trading, he stated:

“It was a fantastic transformation for a mart to go from having farmers bidding for cattle around a ring, to having them bidding solely for cattle online in such a short space of time.

“For example, we could be selling up to 900 cattle in three rings online at Balla Mart; it is a fantastic achievement to be able to do.

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“It’s here to stay and it will have a role to play going forward for sure.

“The prices and the trade have been stronger due to the online system and we have certainly opened ourselves up to a lot more customers, that’s for sure.

“From a seller’s point of view, they are at a slight disadvantage that they can’t get into the mart box to speak with the auctioneers, but in saying that, they have adapted to the change.

“We feel sorry for some of the older farmers that still have not gotten used to buying cattle online and we are missing these customers around the ring. However, some of these have been in contact with people who can buy cattle for them,” Stephen concluded.

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Ann Harkin – Raphoe Mart

Giving her viewpoint on the current online systems, Ann Harkin, manager of Raphoe Mart said:

“It’s still not an ideal situation to be in. I think farmers still need to be in around the ring when it comes to buying cattle. The online platform is useful at the moment, but it is not without its headaches too.

“Farmers may find a fault with an animal after they have bought them online, which doesn’t happen too often but it can happen. Now this wouldn’t occur if they were looking at them at ringside.

“The internet connection for farmers is another issue that we see; some farmers ring up and say that they were bidding and bidding for cattle but because their internet was slow, we were not receiving the bids.

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Image taken prior to covid-19 guidelines

“We are 99% better than where we would be if the mart had to be closed, and it’s better than trying to match cattle and customers which we were doing at the start of the Covid-19 restrictions.

“For the sheep rings, we have seen a lot more customers since we joined the online system. We have a lot more registered buyers but some of these haven’t bought any cattle as of yet.

“Online buying is here to stay and we just have to continue to adapt to the new normal,” Ann concluded.

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Martin Ryan – Mid-Tipp Mart

Martin Ryan, manager of Mid-Tipp Mart in Thurles, also spoke with Agriland about his opinion on the current online trading system. He stated:

“It was a major cultural change for starters, and it was difficult to get people to get set up. There are a few farmers who can’t bid from their homes for the simple reason that they don’t have broadband.

“If farmers have been in to inspect the cattle beforehand, there [have] been very little issues.

“Online bidding eliminates any comradery in buying around the ring.

“I actually saw two farmers that were brothers bidding on the same cattle one day and if they knew they were bidding against each other, they wouldn’t be impressed.

“It’s not going away anytime soon; it’s a way that marts can continue to operate safely and provide the business to the farmers because we don’t want to be closed.

“If we didn’t have the online trading at the minute we wouldn’t be operating and April time would be one of our busiest times of the year; it’s our bread and butter really, we would have been losing a lot of custom,” he concluded.