A 10-20pc drop in cattle numbers in the marts has been reported over the last week as poor factory prices and the continuing Brexit debacle in Britain fuels uncertainty in the trade.
Mart managers in the midlands and south-east said sales were well back compared to this time last year, with farmers reluctant to move cattle at the moment.
George Candler of Kilkenny Mart reported a 20-25pc drop in numbers last week compared to the same week in 2017. He blamed the poor factory prices and the uncertainty around Brexit.
"The uncertainty with Brexit is a real problem. I'm in this game 40 years and I've never seen such uncertainty. We need clarity in the worst of a way on Brexit at this stage," Mr Candler said. He accepted that there was less pressure on farmers to move stock this spring as there is no shortage of fodder. However, he maintained that the fall-off in mart sales was reflective of an underlying lack of confidence in the trade.
Lower turnouts were also reported by Michael Harty of Central Auctions and Maura Quigley of Roscommon Mart, with numbers back around 10-15pc.
Mr Harty also attributed the recent tightening of numbers to a combination of Brexit and poor beef prices. Although mart prices had remained relatively steady over the last month, Mr Harty said there was a reluctance among farmers "to sell or buy" at the moment.
Maura Quigley said strong fodder supplies in the west this spring was a factor in the smaller turnout of stock in Roscommon. She said farmers were under less pressure this year to sell cattle. However, she predicted that numbers would increase as February progressed.
Not all the marts reported smaller sales. Mayo-Sligo Mart and Delvin Mart both reported similar numbers on offer to this time last year.
Prices for cattle have remained steady despite the weak factory prices. Mart managers maintain that quality stock are still in demand, with the best of the trade is for light continentals under 400kgs.
Farmers explained that they were "buying time" when purchasing these cattle, as they will take 12-15 months to finish and the Brexit issue should be sorted by that stage.
While factory prices are generally unchanged, the trade for Friesian bulls has deteriorated further, with finishers struggling to get cattle killed.