IFA has sent a submission to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue in an effort to resolve the difficulties that have emerged for farmers and marts trying to operate under Level 5 restrictions.
The move comes after a disastrous week across the country where poor broadband caused online sales to collapse in 16 marts over the weekend while farmers stood outside the facilities trying to bid and sell stock on their phones because they are not allowed into the ringside under the current restrictions.
Dan McCarthy, Manager of Kenmare Mart in Co Kerry called for the reintroduction of Level 3 restrictions while IFA urged the Government to review the current regulations.
Mr McCarthy’s comments came after a day of “utter mayhem” at Kenmare Mart where buyers couldn’t bid because of poor internet, while others - unhappy with an animal after purchasing it from the online catalogue - discovered there was no system in place to return it.
“Under Level 3 restrictions we were allowing 24 or 25 people into the ringside with social distancing in place and everything worked fine,” added Mr McCarthy.
“Now, under the Level 5 restrictions people are gathering outside the mart because they can’t come inside.
“Animals are being selected from the online catalogue for purchase; after they are eventually bought the farmer brings the stock back to the farm but there are occasions when he is unhappy with the animal.
“And there is no return process at the mart in place when a situation like this arises; it’s unreal to be honest with you.”
IFA president Tim Cullinan pointed out that this is a critical time of year for the country’s suckler, beef and sheep farmers in the market place and it is vital the mart sales “function in a manner that is as open, transparent and competitive as possible over the next number of weeks”.
“The option to hold cattle doesn’t exist for the majority of farmers selling at this time of year,” he added.
“Any disruption to the marketing of these animals can have very serious consequences in terms of animal health, welfare and crucially income for the farmers involved in what is a low-income sector.”
Meanwhile, in its submission to the Minister, IFA has sought the facilitation of controlled numbers of buyers at the ringside.
The organisation stated that suckler, beef and sheep farmers are heavily dependent on an effective mart system at this time of year and while the platforms being used to run sales have been working well, “what happened on Saturday when one of the online systems went down shows the risk of operating using this system alone”.
“The poor-quality broadband is also a contributor to the difficulties for marts and farmer buyers with an exclusive on-line sales system,” the submission continued.
“Not all buyers are comfortable using this system and there is a concern that they will not be active bidders.
“This could reduce the number of bidders and affect the integrity of the market.
“Mart rings are generally very spacious, with high roofs and numerous openings with good airflow.”
In a statement, the Department acknowledged the difficulties experienced by farmers and mart managers last week and said officials would “continue to work closely” with livestock marts representative organisations to facilitate the sale of animals through the marts.
“The unprecedented numbers of people viewing and bidding on the mart online systems, and the speed at which farmers have adopted the new technology, has meant that some have had to build extra resilience into their systems,” a spokesperson added.
“While it is too early to draw any definitive conclusions, to date mart trade via the online only systems for cattle and sheep remains good, with mart clearances of up to 95%, and a continued steady trade as has been the case in many marts this autumn.
“Every aspect of the situation in relation to marts will be kept under review over the coming period.”