‘We’re optimistic we’ll get something sorted’ – Ballyjamesduff’s John Tevlin

As of midnight last night, Tuesday, March 24, all marts in the Republic of Ireland suspended trading in line with new Government restrictions that were implemented in a effort to curtail the spread of Covid-19.

This comes at an extremely busy time for the mart trade, with sale entries growing and growing each week. Improved ground conditions and grass growth have coincided with the closure and ultimately put farmers under increased pressure to buy and sell livestock.

However, the show goes on and mart managers are confident that they will be in a position to assist farmers in the movement of livestock – albeit in the absence of a live auction.

AgriLand spoke to Ballyjamesduff Mart manager, John Tevlin, to see what the plan is going forward and how these new restrictions will affect live cattle trading.

What are your thoughts on the closure of livestock marts across the country?

Firstly, at our sale yesterday [Tuesday, March 24], farmers reacted well to the social distancing regulations and – by and large – they kept within their areas. In most cases, sellers didn’t come into the mart and cattle were either sold over the phone or subject; it worked well.

It’s something that will have to be implemented when restrictions are relaxed again. So, it’s great to know that they will and can be worked – we have proven that.

With the complete close down now, there have been a lot of phone calls from farmers with stock to sell and from people that have grass and are looking for cattle. We’re hoping that we will be able to operate a system for those.

The mart at the minute is closed, but we’re all contactable by phone.

Are there any plans in the pipeline to facilitate trading over the coming weeks?

What we have proposed here is that farmers could bring cattle in by appointment only and we would weigh and pen them.

Then, buyers that we have on our books that are interested could come in – individually on a rota-based system – and tender for them; the cattle could then be sold to the highest tender.

That’s something that we are looking at to see if that’s workable; that’s just a proposal at this stage, so we have to wait and see.

What about farm-to-farm trading?

If the marts are not involved, I see that there could be a lot more ‘door-to-door’ visits – maybe calling to older-farmers – so do we really want people calling under the current circumstances?

With the mart, the seller is still in control, they send their cattle in and they have no reason to get out of their vehicles. Their cattle are weighed and sold – keeping in line with Government restrictions of no more than four people in one group. And obviously by practicing social distancing.

It’s early days, but we’re optimistic we’ll get something sorted. Additionally, a lot of farmers will be happy to go through marts for guaranteed payment – that’s a big thing.

How to you see the trade going?

If we were working that tendering system, then the market would determine prices – it would be open and transparent.

The trade yesterday [Tuesday, March 24] was reasonably good considering. The cow trade was quieter, but that was to be expected under the current situation.

Store cattle were a good trade. Some farmers were anxious to get cattle for grass and there probably was more pressure on farmers to buy. If this was happening in September or October, it could be very different.

The calf sale was smaller with a much better trade. Farmers took the lead here yesterday [Tuesday, March 24] and forked out more than what exporters were willing to pay. Top-quality Friesian bull calves made up to €120/head – for strong three-to-four week old calves.

There seems to be plenty of demand for weanlings – especially for grass, so I’d say the trade will hold up.