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‘I think the day of big crowds in marts is gone’

As part of this week’s Mart FocusThat’s Farming, speaks to Michael Harty from the Central Auctions Services Co-operative Society. He discusses the Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on its three marts and the livestock mart industry’s future.

Michael Harty, from Toomevara, County Tipperary, is the current CEO of the Central Auctions Services Co-operative Society, a group that serves the farmers of Offaly and Tipperary.

In the late 1980s, Michael moved to fill a trainee manager position in Granard Mart. He then secured a management position in Athenry Mart and Kilkenny Mart and later took up livestock auctioneering.

In 2005, Michael became operations manager at Central Auctions Services Co-operative Society before taking up the CEO position in 2017.

“I always had a huge interest in marts and livestock. I always saw myself managing a mart. Furthermore, I am very interested in livestock, and we are farmers at home,” Michael Harty told That’s Farming.

Central Auctions

The Central Auctions Services Co-operative Society group comprises Roscrea, Nenagh, and Birr Mart. Roscrea and Nenagh Mart both have the capabilities of exporting through their export penning areas.

In 2005, the three mart committees came together to form the one umbrella group. “It has turned out it be a great success; the economy is of scale, and the overall greater efficiencies have been achieved.”

On a Monday, Birr Mart holds a cattle sale. Furthermore, on a Tuesday, a cattle sale takes place in Nenagh Mart, with a sheep sale every Wednesday in Roscrea Mart.

In addition, Roscrea Mart has their general cattle every Friday and hosts a weanling sale ten months of the year on a Wednesday.

“We are selling in excess of 50,000 cattle a year and 25,000 sheep. So, we are looking at an average of 1,000 cattle weekly.”

The Irish Suffolk Sheep Society and the Irish Limousin Cattle Society host their sales in Roscrea Mart, meanwhile the Irish Hereford Breed Society, the Irish Holstein Friesian Association, and the Irish Aberdeen Angus Society bull sales in Nenagh Mart.

“We have had some extraordinary prices for Suffolk rams and Limousin bulls over the years through our rings.”

Employment and satisfaction

The Central Auctions Services Co-operative Society employs five full-time staff and thirty part-time employees. The company also provides a property service that includes property sales and lettings.

“Our main auctioneers would be David O’Connell from Cullahill, John Osborne from Kildare, John Ryan, Birr, Robert Hunt, Cashel and our in-house auctioneer, David White.”

“The most satisfying part of the job is bringing together people to buy livestock and retaining good prices and then customer satisfaction, and that we are providing a good facility for people to trade livestock.”

“The long hours would get to you the odd time, but overall I would have to say I have great job satisfaction.”

Changes

During Michael’s time in the Central Auctions Services Co-operative Society, he has been in the position of celebrating both Birr Mart and Nenagh Mart’s 50th anniversaries.

Michael has introduced better rostrum functionality, pre-booking of livestock, computerised display boards and a new online facility so far in his tenure.

“The MartBids online system brought huge changes to our business in 2020. It just proves that a necessity brings change. People have got so used to online bidding from both buyers and sellers points of view. It has turned out to be a great success.”

“I think online trading is here to stay, the younger farmer, in particular, is very happy with it, and with the whole issues with the time, it is definitely here to stay.”

“The age profile of some of our buyers would be moving on a bit. The young farmer is going to buy the stock online, and they are not even around the ring when the cattle are going through.”

beef prices, mart prices, mart reports, Michael Harty, Central Auctions
Image supplied by Michael Harty

Challenges

Michael faces many challenges in the role, including increased costs, particularly insurance which has experienced major increases.

“I remember in the early days when marts had funds; you were able to earn deposit interest, which was a good source of income. Now, we are in a position where we have to pay negative interest on any funds on deposit.”

“IT is great and online sales, but it comes with a cost, and there are streaming and maintenance costs and contracts.”

“We work in very small margins, tight areas. Our challenge will be to keep hold, provide a service and invest in further improvements and enhancements.”

Social media

The Central Auctions Services Co-operative Society’s social media platforms, e.g. Facebook, have played a considerable role in promoting the three marts.

In 2018, the co-operative first set up its Facebook page, which has led to many sales from buyers and sellers. The page provides potential customers with previous mart reports, news, and forthcoming sales.

“We have a person dedicated to uploading sales and results of sales and forthcoming sales, so it is working out very well for us.”

Michael shared his advice for aspiring mart managers.“I believe you have to have a good interest in livestock, and an accountancy background will be no harm. I suppose the ability to deal with people as you meet all sorts all people in the job.”

Future of livestock trading

Michael feels the future of the livestock mart industry will involve difficulties with competitors, including on-farm sales and online livestock sale platforms.

“The mart business going forward will involve the younger farmer who is more IT techy than his father or mother who will buy and sell the cattle or sheep online. I think the day of big crowds in marts is gone.”

“What I would say to people is that most of the prices are based on what has been achieved in marts at the end of the day.”

“So, I think that for marts to survive, farmers will have to support them strongly and bring in their stock, which got set up 50 to 60 years ago to give transparent business.”

“We continue with the same ethos we give true weights and the opportunity for anyone to bid for stock, and now with online that opportunity is even greater,” the CEO of the Central Auctions Services Co-operative Society concluded.

To share your story, email Catherina Cunnane, editor of That’s Farming catherina@thatsfarming.com

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