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The Covid-19 has forced livestock marts to rethink how they buy and sell

Over recent months, farming has been hugely affected by the rapid spread of Covid-19 which has spearheaded the need for us to at times adapt how our farms operate, especially when it comes to how we buy and sell our livestock.

Government measures have certainly been challenging for our local livestock marts. Traditionally marts were a “shop window” for many farmers, where they could attend sales days and it was an opportunity to see what was on offer. It was also a chance to congregate and talk “shop”, even gather some learnings from others around the ring. For many farmers it was also a social gathering of sorts. Farming for some can be a lonely old business therefore mart days were a perfect time to meet up with friends and neighbours.   

Auctioneer, Hampton Hewitt, of Markethill Livestock Mart believes that some habits are harder to break but one benefit has been that the pandemic has highlighted the importance of livestock marts. Hampton reported that when marts closed during lockdown “there was no competition…prices plummeted and when the markets reopened, prices increased”.

We caught up with a couple of our local marts to see how they have adapted in these unprecedented times.

How have Covid-19 measures affected mart operations?

Hampton Hewitt said, “In many ways, the workload has basically doubled. We have to try and manage and safeguard people as well as the livestock. It has taken an increased amount of resource, time and money to make sure that we keep people safe.”

This was echoed at the Ulster Farmers Mart, Enniskillen where James Johnston reported that “There has been a big impact on time and more intensive office work needs doing in terms of all the extra registrations”.

What types of changes have been put in place?

Markethill Livestock Mart has spent considerable money safeguarding customers by putting in pods to reinforce social distancing. Hampton Hewitt advised that lots of farmers selling livestock wanted to see their stock physically sold. Whilst some were initially disgruntled that they weren’t allowed into the mart, many have come to realise that they can sit in the comfort of their own home and make sales. As it turns out, sales have not been affected in comparison to pre-lockdown percentages.

Over in Fermanagh in Enniskillen, they have recently started selling online too and fortunately for them “sales wise, we haven’t really been affected, we are selling the same numbers of stock”. James Johnston reports that farmers in the Fermanagh area seem to be coping well with the changes and “buyers who wouldn’t normally go online have because they simply had to”.

Whilst it is a massive shift in operations, it holds many opportunities. As we get used to this new normal, it will most likely get much more transactional over time and livestock will be delivered to our doors without ever having to leave the yard! Many of the older generation may find this difficult, but to keep everyone safe and stop the spread of Covid-19, it is vital we react positively to these new changes.



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