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Pressure grows to allow ringside buyers in marts

Farm organisations and ICOS call for relaxation of Level 5 rules for marts

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Farmers practising social distancing in a mart before Level 5 restrictions were imposed

Farmers practising social distancing in a mart before Level 5 restrictions were imposed

Farmers practising social distancing in a mart before Level 5 restrictions were imposed

ICOS, the Mart Managers of Ireland and farming organsiations, as well as a number of rural TDs are calling for a relaxation of Covid-19 Level 5 rules to allow some ringside buyers in marts.

The proposal comes after marts were forced to move to online sales last week when Level 5 restrictions were imposed across the country.

ICOS today called on the Government to bring about as speedy a return as possible of a ringside attendance by buyers and sellers at marts, augmented by online systems.

It says this can be managed under all necessary public health and operating guidelines including face coverings and social distancing requirements, which the marts had implemented effectively to date.

ICOS Livestock and Environmental Services Executive Ray Doyle said, “This is particularly important as it’s essential for a successful trade in suckler bred weanlings to take place in the interests of animal welfare and progression of the national herd.

“In spite of the onerous restrictions that are currently in place, and some technical difficulties that have arisen, the marts are proving their metal and staying resilient."

Statistics from the Department of Agriculture indicate that as of the weekend just shy of 31,000 animals have been traded through the marts to date in spite of four marts having to abandon sales on Saturday due to a software problem which has now been rectified.

The same time last year, this figure was 36,000 animals traded.

Doyle said figures show that the trade is only back 9.6pc overall YTD - at 1.275m cattle as opposed to 1.4m last year.

"However, when you analyse the trading pattern of the last three months in particular August was up 43pc, September up 20pc and October up 6.7pc up to the 25th of the month and it’s not finished yet."

A number of mart managers have said the online-only sales system is unworkable, with poor broadband coverage curtailing trading.

And today, IFA President Tim Cullinan said a detailed submission has been sent to the Minister for Agriculture to resolve the difficulties for farmers and marts operating under the current Level 5 restrictions.

The IFA President said this is a critical time of year for our suckler, beef and sheep farmers in the market place and it is vital the mart sales function in a manner that is as open, transparent and competitive as possible over the next number of weeks and said the option to hold cattle doesn’t exist for the majority of farmers selling at this time of year.

He said any disruption to the marketing of these animals can have very serious consequences in terms of animal health, welfare and crucially income for the farmers involved in what is a low-income sector.

The IFA President said the online bidding system has bedded down well in some marts as a supplementary system to a presence of buyers in the ring.

However, there are huge concerns about marts operating exclusively under this system, and in particular at this time of year when throughput is at peak numbers.

ICMSA President Pat McCormack is calling for marts to be permitted to have up to 25 persons physically present at sales. He said that as long as the recommended social distancing and other regulations were fully observed, it was difficult to see how marts should be different to other essential services.

“We’re just conscious that this is traditionally a very busy period for weanling producers when competition for cattle is critical, and we think that if their trade could be facilitated – subject, of course, to observance of all Covid guidelines – then that would be a step in the right direction. "

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