NI marts establishing protocols to facilitate reopening

Northern Ireland mart managers are working alongside the region’s Department of Agriculture (DAERA) to ensure livestock movements can continue.

Addressing Minister added that marts could be reopened – albeit on a restricted basis – as early as the end of April.

“Markets are currently working to establish protocols, which would allow restricted opening in the near future. But I must caution that only through sensible action, will we deliver sustainable solutions.”

Poots explained one possible solution was that the marts would open exclusively to buyers, while sellers would be asked to drop off their animals and leave.

He explained all animals would be then sold conditionally, and sellers could choose to either accept or decline the price.

“I think that the marts will move ahead and open once things scale down a bit – but I don’t think they are quite ready to do that yet,” he told the committee.

“Their assessment is that the social distancing being observed at the moment is making a difference and they don’t want to take any risks with public health.”

The Northern Ireland Livestock Auctioneers’ Association (NILAA) – a body representing the region’s livestock sales rings – announced that all marts in the region would close with immediate effect on March 23. Initially, a two-week closure was planned.

Enniskillen Ulster Farmers’ Mart manager and spokesman for the NILAA, James Johnston, said: “Many marts are still concerned that the infection rate has still not peaked and are considering opening again towards the end of April but no date has been arranged yet.

“We will be running online sales in Enniskillen starting next week as an interim measure.”

The plans are still a work in progress, but Johnston explained that the Thursday sale will feature 200 weanlings.

“Sellers deliver but don’t leave vehicles. Stock will be numbered, weighed, and videoed in the ring. Buyers can register and bid remotely and then collect stock they buy,” he said.

As part of the protocols, marts would be expected to keep a list of everyone in attendance, along with their contact numbers and addresses, and to prioritise the sale of animals for the food chain – prime stock, cull cows and stores.

Minister slams beef imports

During the same committee, the Minister also acknowledged anger among farmers following reports ABP had imported 400t of Polish beef for sale in Asda and Sainsbury’s.

Minister Poots stressed that supermarkets needed to “do their bit” in continuing to buy and sell high-quality local produce.

Poots added that he had made clear in a meeting with both retailers that there was “no acceptable excuse” not to support local producers.

You can check the status of your local mart on the AgriLand mart status page.