Martin Coughlan: Mart closures raising some hard questions
In the last 10 months three major marts have ceased trading. Added to the loss of Castleblayney and Carrick-on-Suir marts in 2018, last week's closure of Mountrath had some in the business asking hard questions as to where now for those remaining.
It is believed that increasing insurance premiums were a significant factor in the case of Mountrath's decision to cease trading; as they were in the case of the decision made by the directors of Carrick-on-Suir Mart to not reopen their gates after a fire last year gutted the block housing the administration and canteen facilities.
Or is it a case that beef farming is evolving and the marts have to also evolve. And as that happens, will there be further casualties?
Leaving the questions of mart evolution to one side, last week's trade saw a good share of marts reopening to higher-than-expected numbers with the resultant trade summed up by George Candler of Kilkenny as being "solid as opposed to spectacular".
The Ringside figures for bullocks support George's analysis with the 300-399kg division, while improved, was only so by 3c/kg or from €9-12/hd. In the 500-599kg section, average overall prices were better last week by 2c/kg on average (€10-12/hd) while the 600kg+ bullock rose 1c/kg. The most interesting returns among the bullocks on this week's table come in the 400-499kg section, where prices last week jumped 14c/kg on average to €2.08c/kg. The major driver of that overall average price increase came among the top quarter as the price of that better 400-499kg bullock pushed upwards by 17c/kg or €68-85/hd.
The figures show overall average prices for all heifers improving right across the spectrum. In the 350-399kg section, average prices rose 13c/kg, while the 400-499kg and 500-599kg sections rose 20c/kg and 22c/kg respectively. The biggest increase came in the 600kg+ section, where overall averages went up 32c/kg, with the better made heifer banging 41c/kg onto her price - that's a massive €246/hd.
Part of what drove the trade last week has to be the continuing dry weather. With the mild weather seeing stock indoors not eating as much fodder as might have been expected, those with cattle sold ventured forth to see what was about. What they found, in some places, was surprisingly big numbers for the time of year.