Cavan-Monaghan-based Fianna Fáil TD, Brendan Smith, has called on the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, to amend Covid-19 arrangements in place for pedigree cattle sales in livestock marts.
Under Covid-19 Level 5 restrictions, sales are held online-only, with exhibitors required to vacant the mart premises whilst potential buyers inspect stock during allocated viewing periods.
Last week, Nevan McKiernan, secretary of the Irish Charolais Cattle Society, said: “New Covid 19-restrictions on pedigree bull sales introduced by the Department of Agriculture posed many obstacles for both buyers and sellers.”
“For the first time, exhibitors had to leave the mart and their bulls unattended for the duration of the viewing time. This allowed buyers to come in and view the bulls strictly by appointment only.”
“Exhibitors did eventually get to return to their stalls as the Sale got underway, to prepare and bring their bulls to the sales ring.”
He revealed that viewing restrictions in place “definitely affected” the trade and buyers’ confidence, considering the number of viewers greatly exceeded the number of bulls on offer.
Covid-19 pedigree cattle sales
In response to deputy Smith’s query, Minister McConalogue, said: “I understand that there are distinct challenges regarding pedigree sales.”
“My officials have also discussed the specific challenges involved with pedigree bull sales with the breed societies and mart organisations.”
“Based on that, specific COVID-19 rules for pedigree bull sales were issued, which enabled the sellers to lead the bulls by halter into the sales ring, while still ensuring the protection of public health.”
He said under the current Level 5 restrictions, mart sales rings are closed to reduce the risk of COVID-19 being spread when people are present in an area together.
“The proposal that sellers would remain with their bulls throughout the sales, interacting and speaking with buyers, would mean considerable numbers of people present in an area and interacting together for a lengthy period; this is simply not consistent with overall Level 5 restrictions.”
Cattle and sheep throughputs
According to the minister, cattle throughput in marts from January 1st to February 28th, 2021, was at 94.2% of the comparable period in 2020 (207,450 versus 220,169 head).
The minister added that sheep throughput in the same period was at 98.8% of the comparable period for 2020 (135,234 versus 136,896 head).
“Online sales reach a much higher number of farmers and agents than in-person sales do. Farmers wishing to purchase pedigree bulls can avail of this system, and pedigree bulls are being sold in this way.”
“I would like to commend marts, their staff and farmers for the resilience they have shown and the speed with which they have adapted to these circumstances.”
Marts ICT Scheme
Earlier this week, Minister McConalogue launched the Marts ICT Infrastructure Scheme 2021.
Livestock marts can apply to my Department for a grant to a maximum of €5,000 to cover 50% of expenditure on necessary ICT infrastructure.
Independent TD, Michael Fitzmaurice, stated that the DAFM has treated livestock marts “unfairly treated” when it comes to the “finer details” of the scheme.
According to the minister, it has been confirmed that investments made by marts in 2020 will not be eligible as part of the scheme – read more here.