Seamus Mullingan from Aughnacliffe

Farmers return to Granard mart

Monday saw the phased reopening of non-essential retail, and among the businesses that returned to trading with the easing of Covid 19 restrictions were livestock marts. The sector has undergone significant changes as marts, which fulfils a social function as much as a commercial one, have embraced digital technology during the last year.

At 7pm on Monday only one of the Granard Farmers’ Mart’s two rings are in operation. There is a steady hum of bids droning over the PA system as the mart’s chairman, Joseph Reilly, updates the Celt on how the livestock mart is coping with the return of their patrons.

In the course of a regular year the mart can takes an entry of over 20,000 livestock. Covid time sees a reduction in the number of pens holding animals, but the buzz of the livestock mart has returned with farmers back in the fold as restrictions are lifted.

Joseph, who runs a beef and suckler enterprise in Kilcogy, took over the role of chairman in January: “It’s great to have everyone back in,” he tells the Celt, “the last couple of months have been hard. Accommodating the sellers has been difficult, especially on night sales. You could be here until 12 at night to get sales sanctioned. Having the sellers here is a big thing, because selling online can be hit and miss for them if there are problems with broadband.”

Returning to the ring has created an atmosphere that is unique to a sale day at a livestock mart: “You can see in there tonight there is a bit of a buzz about the place. It’s the only way to buy cattle. Some cattle are up €50 a head there tonight. That’s just the way it is. There are lads who will come in here, and for some reason they will buy more cattle than they would if the sale was online,” Joseph says.

The Granard mart chairman says people adapted to the changes: “There were people who felt left out by the online sales, but in general the older generation did grasp it fairly well. They were going around with their iPads, phones and the rest. They got on with it, but in some instances if they didn’t have sons or nephews helping them out they would not have been able to do it.”

John Farris from Delvin was making his way from pens to the bidding ring: “I sell here regularly,” he said, before explaining how he found the last few months, “it was more difficult for the ordinary farmer. You like to see the animal in the ring. I’m hoping they stay open, I’d happily wear two mask if it made that happen,” he jokes.

Seamus Mullingan from Aughnacliffe has two pedigree Charolais bulls up for sale. Asked if it’s good to be back his reply: “I’ll tell you that in an hours time,” is typical of the good natured banter of the ringside.

He feels the return of live sales is a good thing.

“It should be a help. There are not that many up there, but several people came and looked at them [his bulls] and said they were going to bid online.”

Seamus says virtual marts have their upside. By providing farmers with a nationwide buyer pool, they improve the lot of the sellers: “It’s good to have both. People are getting used to online.”

Pat O’Hara is another farmer happy with the return of mart business: “It’s unreal now. Farmers like to see their stock before they buy them. It’s a relief for many of them. Some of the farmers are getting on in years and it’s an inconvenience for them to have to trade on their phones. They have to ask people to bid for them.”

For Pat the digital marts have provided a necessary outlet during difficult times and will have a profound effect on the way marts will operated from here on:

“There is a need for it. When people can’t get to the mart they can buy from home. Both can work. It has transformed the business in a way. I think it will change things for the better.

“People can be home eating their dinner and they can bid away. I still feel it’s better to see the cattle,” he says.

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