The Irish Cooperative Organisation Society (ICOS) has requested the government to bring about “as speedy a return as possible” of a ringside attendance by buyers and sellers at marts, augmented by online systems.

The national cooperative marts body said that this can be managed under all necessary public health and operating guidelines including face coverings and social distancing requirements, which the marts had implemented effectively to date.

ICOS Livestock and Environmental Services executive Ray Doyle said: “This is particularly important as it’s essential for a successful trade in suckler-bred weanlings to take place in the interests of animal welfare and progression of the national herd.

In spite of the onerous restrictions that are currently in place and some technical difficulties that have arisen, the marts are proving their metal and staying resilient.

“DAFM [Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine] statistics indicate that, as of the weekend just gone [from Thursday to Monday], just shy of 31,000 animals have been traded through the marts to date in spite of four marts having to abandon sales on Saturday due to a software problem which has now been rectified.

“The remaining marts completed their sales two hours after the software problem was fixed. The same time last year, this figure was 36,000 animals traded,” Doyle said.

Overall figures remain positive

Doyle continued: “Since the first lockdown, when effectively the sector was shut completely and only had a limited tendering system in place to facilitate trade, we are only back 9.6% overall YTD [year-to-date] – at 1.27 million cattle as opposed to 1.4 million last year.

“However, when you analyse the trading pattern of the last three months in particular, August was up 43%, September up 20% and October up 6.7% up to the 25 of the month and it’s not finished yet.

The resilience of the sector must be commended. Since last Wednesday [October 21], over 75% of mart centres have online bidding in place.

“The well-publicised technology problem of last Saturday [October 24] showed that over 30,000 farmers are online with LSL [Livestock Live] and another 10,000 with the two other providers, showing that over 40,000 farmers are embracing the new technology and method of sales,” added Doyle.

The ICOS says it’s aware of all the problems, including broadband connectivity; the speed of connections; and the software glitch which took place – which is now fixed.

I don’t underestimate the real difficulties, frustrations and financial costs of all this but collectively as a sector we are prevailing and must continue to do so.

“ICOS wants to see as quick a return as possible to the blend of ringside attendance and online trade as much as anyone but that decision is currently not ours to make.

“We can however work with and improve what we already have in place and this is what we are doing while ensuring to communicate the real and present concerns of our sector to government,” he concluded.