The Irish Cooperative Organisation Society (ICOS) has proposed a reduction in the retention period for Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC) eligibility as a method to ease pressure on farmers and marts during discussions with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Marts will continue to operate, in line with Government guidelines, as long as they can successfully comply with social distancing rules and the maximum 100-person limit on attendees, ICOS highlighted.

‘New operating reality’

ICOS livestock and environment executive Ray Doyle commented on the situation, stating: “As noted by the Taoiseach in his address last night, it is clear this situation will last for many months, and well beyond the current period to March 29.

As this will be the new operating reality for marts, we must strictly enforce methods of operating within the safety parameters laid down by the Government or marts will need to close.

“But, this will be an individual decision for mart boards in the best interests of the country first, shareholders, customers, employees and all extended families involved.”

The executive noted that continuing to trade is a real challenge for marts, adding that no one wants the responsibility of creating an environment which may lead to someone being infected.

“Farming families need marts to enable them to earn a living and supply much-needed cash, but not to jeopardise anyone else in the process. This will be difficult and will result in significant long-term changes to the way we are conducting our business.”

ANC retention period proposal

ICOS also said it is asking the Department to implement immediate practical measures to ease the capability of marts to comply with the Government’s Covid-19 measures.

“If marts can spread out their usual peak spring sales it will greatly assist with ensuring compliance.

This means reducing the retention period for Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC) payments from seven to five months.

Doyle explained that this measure would: allow farmers a longer time-frame to purchase the animals needed to comply with the stocking density requirements of the scheme; greatly assist their economic viability; and avoid the compression of sales into a short time-frame in the marts.

“Basic Payment Schemes and ANCs will never be more critical for farmers to comply with in order to secure these payments and the department should prioritise this change immediately as a practical measure for marts and farmers,” the executive added.

All options considered

Speaking to AgriLand, Doyle said that ICOS is looking into all options of keeping the show on the road, including online options, but stressed that such measures are not straightforward.

“We are actively looking at all methods of continuing mart sales.

Buyers and sellers only

“We further reiterate that only buyers and sellers of livestock will be permitted to attend the marts and controls are in place regarding numbers attending.

At this time, social visitors and particularly children or vulnerable people must stay away from the marts until further notice is given.

“Everyone needs to cooperate with any and all instructions given in mart centres as we all need the marts to continue trading during this busy spring period, but in a safe way and one which will not add to the spread of Covid-19,” Doyle concluded.