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‘What the Department are doing with the marts is a total fiasco, a total disaster’ — how the mart trade is struggling with Level 5 restrictions

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Kenmare Mart complies with the Level 5 restrictions

Kenmare Mart complies with the Level 5 restrictions

Kenmare Mart complies with the Level 5 restrictions

Anger and stress are mounting at the government as farmers try to cope with online trading, and broadband issues add to problems for staff, buyers and sellers. Mart managers around the country assess the levels of frustration on the ground

Dowra

Auctioneer Terry McGovern says while the Cavan mart has two different aerials for broadband at the moment an online only system is not without problems.

“There are issues with broadband at the moment in the area, but there’s also a problem with people not being able to see the cattle they are buying.

“There are big shows of cattle at the back end of the year and it will be very difficult to work with.

“I think some farmers will hold on to cattle and see how this goes over the coming weeks, rather than sell them now.”

Castlerea

Brendan Egan says his Thursday sale was back on the previous week.

“We sold over 500 cattle Thursday, and had over 600 booked in. We sold 750 more the previous week, but some farmers opted not to come in with Level 5.”

The sale last Thursday was all online, but Brendan says many local buyers are not buying.

“Local farmers, who we reply on to buy stock are excluded from the ring and many can’t use the new system or don’t have adequate phones for it.”

Many farmers too, he says, are afraid to travel out because of Covid.

“Some of our more elderly customers are definitely afraid and some are trying a ‘wait and see’ policy to see if in a few weeks things get back to normal.”

The sale, he says, was also very tough for mart staff.

“It was a very difficult day on the office staff, sellers are no longer there and we’re trying to contact them and OK the sales. It’s very time-consuming.

“We don't have decent broadband and it was just about adequate to keep us going for the day.

“I'm waiting on fibre to be installed — it's in the town and due to be rolled out this week, but there is no guarantee we’ll have it installed this week.”

Kenmare

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Kenmare Mart manager Dan McCarthy

Kenmare Mart manager Dan McCarthy

Kenmare Mart manager Dan McCarthy

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Dan McCarthy describes last Thursday as “one of the toughest days” he has endured since he became manager of the Kenmare Mart in 2004 as farmers were forced to sell their cattle online.

In his Thursday night video report, Dan said: “What the Department are doing with the marts is a total fiasco, a total disaster.

"To think that we as farmers have to put up with this, no internet and having to bid online.”

The mart is around three miles outside Kenmare, and Dan says the internet is very patchy.

“It would be grand if you’re in a town, but when I’m setting up you’re looking into a screen and nothing is happening.”

An obviously exhausted and emotionally drained Dan is seen fighting back the tears as he gives vent to his frustration at the lack of balance in the fight to control Covid as he sees it. He says the system is a nightmare for those buying.

“Farmers here are buying and they don't know what they are looking at on their screens when it comes to the animals.”


He also warns there will be suicides from the impact of the restrictions.

"We are frontline workers with the farmers. I can tell you this much, there are farmers under stress...and you will see a lot more happening with depression and suicide if this thing is not sorted within the next week or two.”

He tells the Farming Independent that the staff at the mart are dealing with people suffering from depression and anxiety, they are so anxious to sell cattle.

“We are the people of rural Ireland and we're the people trying to keep rural Ireland going.

"I know there are frontline workers under pressure, but by God after today we are under severe pressure."

Roscommon


Maura Quigley in Roscommon is operating viewing for registered buyers the morning of sales and by appointment only.

“We’re telling sellers to keep an eye on the sale online that all animals sold are subject to being okayed by the seller after the sale,” she says.

“Our broadband is OK as we’re right in the town but if you’re out in the country you would have internet issues.

“Before this we were selling around 30pc online and there are some guys buying online without viewing them, but most would like to see them in real life.

“We’re ran online sales before, but the current sales are that bit bigger. We’ll just have to see how it goes.”

For farmers who don’t have good internet, Maura is encouraging them to get other farmers to buy for them.

“I had a caller and his phone is not great, but he came in and viewed the cattle and we are trying to get people to help these buyers by buying for them.”

Maam Cross

The Connemara mart ran its first online sale on Saturday. In the days leading up to it manager Brid Burke was ringing all her regular sellers to ensure they have all their paperwork done and let them know they can't get out of the car or pen their stock, or separate them like they’d normally do.

“It was a very stressful day for all staff. We had half the amount of stock in the year that we should have had. A lot of people didn’t show.”

Normally the Saturday sheep sale would have, she says, around 3,000 sheep, but they only had half that at the weekend.

“That could be weather, the time of the year and a lot of factors, including the fact it was online.”

The mart’s broadband, she says, is “very patchy”, which meant the mart staff were also on the phone to buyers during the sale, “to let them know the stock that was coming through and if they wanted to bid. Online is great but it’s not the sole thing you can rely on.”

Their customers too, had a mixed experience, she says.

“Some had no problem, but others said their phones and internet froze and by the time it came back up the stock they were looking for were gone through. Online is wonderful in theory but, practically, we’re not set up for it.”


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