Tuesday, 3 November 2020
Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine
71. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the details of his Department's response following the collapse of the online bidding system for livestock marts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33562/20]
Since the beginning of the Covid19 crisis, my Department has worked intensively, in cooperation with marts representative organisations, to ensure that marts may remain in operation.
I would like to commend the representative organisations for this good and necessary cooperation. I would like to commend also the marts themselves, and farmers around the country, for the resilience they have shown in the face of this pandemic, and the speed with which they have adapted to the new circumstances.
Marts have been using online mart sales systems since April. From a position where few marts had online systems in place in April, there has been a rapid take up of the new systems by marts over recent months. Currently the majority of marts have online systems in place and are operating through online platforms. Some remaining marts are in the process of installing online systems. Thousands of cattle and sheep have been bought and sold successfully using the various online platforms. As with any new technology, there have been some glitches and these have been dealt with as they arise. Buyers may still view animals in person by prior appointment with the relevant mart.
On Saturday, 24th October, one of the three main online systems used by marts had a problem that led to a delay in mart sales in 16 mart centres. The problem was resolved after approximately 2 hours and sales were able to resume. 26 of some 30 mart sales that took place across the country on that day completed their sales, while four marts were reported as having cancelled. Officials of my Department are in contact with each of the system providers, and all reaffirmed their commitment to taking all necessary steps to try to avoid any reoccurrence of such problems. According to the online platform, the issue was not related to broadband connection.
My Department is closely monitoring the situation. Online sales are reaching a much higher number of farmers, dealers, and agents than sales on marts premises did, even prior to the start of Covid restrictions. The majority of marts are reporting good clearance rates and robust prices.
Since the introduction of Level 5, during the first five days on which marts were in operation using online sales, the cattle throughput in marts came to 36,034 head – this compares to 42,918 head in the corresponding five day period in 2019. This means that, despite the undoubted disruption caused by moving to Level 5, mart throughput of cattle was 84% of the figures for that period in 2019. This demonstrates that marts have been able to continue to operate and farmers have been able to continue to buy and sell, thanks to the commitment and resourcefulness of the marts and service providers involved.
These figures are testament to the hard work and commitment of marts and service providers to keep operating in this difficult period. My Department will continue to monitor the situation, and to adapt measures applied to marts in line with public health guidelines.