Last Friday, we held the first live auction in Donegal Mart since the middle of March.
While it was wonderful to get the mart open again, with buyers back at the ringside, it was far from the same.
Trade was solid for the time of year and cattle got sold, but it all felt alien. It just didn’t have the old buzzing environment.
The stress of insuring everyone kept their social distance certainly took its toll, with a lot of extra work and staff required. Where we once welcomed our farmers for a friendly chat, I met them like an official, with a clipboard and list.
We tried to alternate our buyers at the ringside, to allow as many farmers bidding time as possible.
With the end of the BDGP scheme in sight, there were a lot of farmers looking to source replacement heifers.
We have no online system installed yet; we are still undecided whether it is the best option for the future of our mart.
We are not convinced that it is the way to sell livestock, but I accept that it has been a godsend in recent months for some farmers and marts.
I find myself relating marts to clothes shops, and the massive shift to buying clothes online.
Where will the future of marts be if this trend takes place with livestock sales?
What use will the auctioneer be in the future of valuing an animal?
Can it all be done in time through an office, and if so, have we played our part in losing another massive part of rural Ireland?
These are all things that weigh heavily on my mind. Last Friday’s mart clearly demonstrated to me the importance of marts to our farmers, not just financially, but socially.
Marts trade approximately 1.8m cattle and 1.5m sheep annually, with a gross value of €1.7bn. At the weekend, the Minister of Agriculture announced a €50m support package for beef farmers, which is certainly welcomed by us all.
However, as a mart manager, it would be wrong of me not to raise the question, where is the support for our marts?
We have invested so much in recent years, for both insurance reasons and more recently to combat Covid-19. We cannot keep taking the burden of these extra costs with absolutely no support for the loss of revenue over the past three months.
Recent times have shown us all the important role that marts play in rural Ireland. We now need our Minister to fight our corner and include marts in these restart grants, just like every other sector.
Eimear McGuinness is the manager of Donegal Mart and chair of the Mart Managers of Ireland