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Eimear McGuinness: Our struggling small family farms are key to surviving this crisis

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Brian Farrell

In recent weeks we have learned how much our lives can change in the blink of an eye. Over the coming weeks, I am sure many of us will realise the importance of things that we once took for granted.

Our farming community, especially the small family farms, will never be more valued for what they produce every day.

How ironic it is that the small family farms, which have struggled for survival, particularly this past year, will be the ones we will need the most in the months ahead. They are the producers of what our society needs to survive.

I am as frightened as the next person of the virus which has convulsed our world, and as a mart manager - like many people and businesses - I have had to make difficult decisions in recent weeks.

My initial thoughts were, we must close up. However, after careful consideration for our industry and our country, I felt we must remember our roles.

Marts are a vital and valuable link within the agri-food chain.

Farmers must be able to continue their work in order to produce food to fill the empty shelves that we have seen in so many shops and supermarkets over the past week.

Farmers need to be able to sell stock to make room for the calves and lambs which are arriving on farms at present, but more importantly, so they can pay the bills for feed and fertiliser, which is needed to keep farms operating in order to produce the meat, cheese, milk, potatoes and vegetables which we all need to survive.

The marts are a cog in a bigger agricultural wheel. We have to find a balance, where we can continue a service that is vital for us all to live and survive, while also protecting the health of so many people.

It has been a difficult week in marts, for both farmers and mart personnel, but we have all adapted and shown we can work together for the greater good.

Slowly but surely, farmers started heeding the strict new procedures in marts. They realise the need for the changes.

Through Mart Managers of Ireland, we have talked and helped each other every step of the way. We made decisions together. Screens have been erected, sales rings have been altered and every precaution that can be taken has been implemented.

Nobody knows how long this virus is likely to stay with us, and we must as a society do our best to protect our people and our country. We all will have a part to play in that.

The Government knows the importance of keeping the agricultural sector moving. It will be vital not just now, but when these desperate times pass. Live exports must continue, and factories must continue to supply markets that we fought so hard to break into.

Every sector will struggle as a consequence of this disaster, but we must protect what we can for our economy and our future.

Eimear McGuinness is manager of Donegal Co-op Livestock Mart

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