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'This is worse than Foot and Mouth - people are under awful pressure and stress and worry'

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Social distancing selling: the scene at Kenmare Mart, Co Kerry, last weekend. Photo: Valerie O'Sullivan

Social distancing selling: the scene at Kenmare Mart, Co Kerry, last weekend. Photo: Valerie O'Sullivan

Social distancing selling: the scene at Kenmare Mart, Co Kerry, last weekend. Photo: Valerie O'Sullivan

It was a livestock mart like no other at Kenmare Mart last Friday as the important spring cattle sale got underway.

Instead of hundreds of people from the Beara and Glengarriff area of west Cork and south Kerry gathering for the sale, attendance was restricted to mainly cattle dealers buying and selling the 300 stock on offer.

Mart manager Dan McCarthy said they are grateful for being able to operate as this time of year is important with feed running out and no grass yet.

During the Foot and Mouth crises, Kenmare, like other marts, had to shut down.

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Social Distancing Sheila Lovett, Kenmare,   following strict guidelines at Kenmare Mart, Co Kerry, which is adhearing to strict protocal introduced to all the Countries Mart, to help in the prevention and slowing down the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19). which includes a restriction on entry, a safe distance of 2 metres apart, clampdown on crowds, Sanitising and wearing gloves provided to all mart staff and customers. Further restrictions maybe introduced next week. Photo: Valerie O’Sullivan / 19/03/2020

Social Distancing Sheila Lovett, Kenmare, following strict guidelines at Kenmare Mart, Co Kerry, which is adhearing to strict protocal introduced to all the Countries Mart, to help in the prevention and slowing down the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19). which includes a restriction on entry, a safe distance of 2 metres apart, clampdown on crowds, Sanitising and wearing gloves provided to all mart staff and customers. Further restrictions maybe introduced next week. Photo: Valerie O’Sullivan / 19/03/2020

Social Distancing Sheila Lovett, Kenmare, following strict guidelines at Kenmare Mart, Co Kerry, which is adhearing to strict protocal introduced to all the Countries Mart, to help in the prevention and slowing down the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19). which includes a restriction on entry, a safe distance of 2 metres apart, clampdown on crowds, Sanitising and wearing gloves provided to all mart staff and customers. Further restrictions maybe introduced next week. Photo: Valerie O’Sullivan / 19/03/2020

"But in some ways this is worse than the Foot and Mouth," said Mr McCarthy.

"People are under awful pressure and stress and worry."

Mr McCarthy, who is also a local councillor, had contacted people to keep the numbers down and tell them not to turn out.

Sitting seats apart and wearing masks is not normal life anywhere, least of all in the south west where mart and fair days are still huge social occasions.

"You'd think you were in a different world. If this were an ordinary day, you would not be able to stand," he said, referring to the crowds such events would normally attract.

Stringent disinfecting had to be carried out and everyone was sanitised on the way in.

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Social Distancing at Kenmare Mart, Co Kerry. Photo: Valerie O’Sullivan

Social Distancing at Kenmare Mart, Co Kerry. Photo: Valerie O’Sullivan

Social Distancing at Kenmare Mart, Co Kerry. Photo: Valerie O’Sullivan

Security men were on the doors and seats were marked apart.

The normally busy canteen was now reduced to a window from which food was being distributed.

There was little talk.

"We are thankful for being able to operate at all and hope we can keep going," added Dan McCarthy.


Contingency plans being put in place by the dairy industry could see teams of critical staff from one milk processor helping to run crucial facilities for another dairy business in the event of a serious Covid-19 outbreak in the sector.

The radical strategy is part of a raft of measures that the dairy sector has drawn up to counter the impact of the global pandemic.

There are growing fears in the dairy sector that milk processing could be brought to a standstill if crucial staff are lost to the virus during peak milk supplies next month.

Close to 75pc of the spring-calving dairy herd are calved at this stage, with ICBF data showing that almost one million dairy calves were registered by last Friday.

With peak milk supplies just six weeks away, the dairy sector is cognisant that it cannot afford any reduction in the country's processing capacity through April and May.

"The processing system is as tight as a drum. The sector can't afford one of the key plants to go offline - we don't have spare capacity at peak," one senior industry source told the Farming Independent.

The contingency plans being compiled by dairy processors are a reflection of a century of co-operation in the sector, according to Conor Mulvihill of Dairy Industry Ireland (DII), who pointed out that while there is enough stainless steel to process peak milk supplies, the immediate concern for dairies is that vital staff will succumb to Covid-19.

Preventative

Dairy businesses have already been active in putting preventative measures in place to tackle the possible spread of Covid-19.

Most dairies have moved all non-operational staff off key processing sites, and set up independent teams to operate these facilities.

Mr Mulvihill said the industry as a whole was now putting in place strategies to cope with a potential "doomsday scenario" where a number of essential staff fall victim to the virus.

"Companies sharing teams of key operational staff is among the measures we've agreed to counter such an eventuality," he explained.

Mr Mulvihill welcomed the relaxation of the driver hour rules for trucks, and said they were looking for the same for the working time directive, which will allow critical staff to do extended shifts should the need arise.

He said the possible reopening of private storage aid (PSA) by the Commission was also critical for the industry. Mr Mulvihill explained that it would give processors the option of holding dairy commodities such as powders, rather than offloading further product onto a weakening market.

Although the request has been made to the Commission, a final decision is not imminent.

Indo Farming