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‘My initial fear was that online selling would take over and marts would be a thing of the past’

Most marts were left with no alternative only to install an online sales system, writes Eimear McGuinness, manager of Donegal Co-operative Livestock Mart and chairperson of the Mart Managers of Ireland (MMI).

One reason is that we are unsure at this stage, whether there will be another surge in the Covid-19 pandemic and we need to be ready for that if it happens – especially as the autumn period is a busy time for farmers and they need to be able to continue to sell their livestock.

The second reason is that the online bidding system seems to be suiting some farmers for purchasing livestock for different reasons, some prefer not to come into crowded areas, some are too busy to stay all day at sales and some prefer to do their business in privacy.

It also suits many sellers who do not wish to stay at marts all day. They can simply log in and watch their livestock being sold and ring mart and either accept or decline price. 

My initial fear was that online selling would take over and marts would be a thing of the past. I wanted to see if both could work together before we installed it in Donegal Mart.

I can say now with confidence that the two are working well together and it has increased the number of buyers bidding on stock which is the aim of any mart. 

Unfortunately, at the minute, we are limited to the number of people we can have in attendance around the rings.

This number has increased over the past week and hopefully will increase more if things get better with phase 4 of the government’s roadmap for re-opening society and business. 

I do now believe that online selling will continue after the pandemic. To what extent, will be the question and one which I cannot answer. We will continue to operate it as it suits a lot of buyers.

Whether farmers are buying or selling, they all love a day out at the mart. It is a rural tradition and often the only social outing a lot of farmers have. Some of them will be waiting patiently for this to return. 

Challenges

Challenges facing marts at the minute would be the massive revenue loss for the busy period in which we could not operate. This is revenue that cannot be recouped after reopening. 

Online systems, as we have spoken about here, have been installed at huge expense. Like every other business, changes have had to be made to premises to adapt and keep people safe on reopening with huge costs also. These are just the changes which have been caused by the pandemic alone. 

Other challenges which marts are facing, especially in the west and north-west of Ireland, is the decline in suckler farmers and farmers, in general.

With stock numbers reducing and all other costs increasing, marts will struggle. Insurance continues to remain the biggest cost for marts.

Other costs coming down the line which are being mentioned are EID tagging for cattle. The lists are endless to the extra paperwork and changes which have been brought on marts over the past five years and all with huge costs.

Marts should definitely have been given support in some regard. Mart Managers of Ireland (MMI) wrote many letters to the ministers over the past number of months and got little response.

We are all aware in the farming community how important marts are to farmers, but that message does not seem to have reached government buildings in Dublin.

Mart rings delivering best prices 

Marts were established in most counties throughout Ireland over 60 years ago. They were established to bring buyers of all descriptions together to competitively bid for livestock in order to secure the best and most competitive price for the stock on offer. 

I believe that since then, efforts have been made in different ways to divert livestock away from this competitive place by the introduction of four movements, and quality assurance requirements, to name but a few. 

Mart managers and farmers need to work together now more than ever to remove some of these hurdles so that farmers can achieve the best price they can for their livestock and that remains to be got in the ring.

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