Farmers flocked to the town of Ballina in Co Mayo on Tuesday morning to bring their livestock to the co-op mart. This time though, some things were different.

There was a large red sign on the door, disposable latex gloves and hand sanitiser available past the entrance threshold and yellow Xs on the ground for people to practise social distancing.

Covid-19 was making its presence known at the Mayo/Sligo Mart. This did not stop farmers from buying and selling their cattle and other animals.

“I think it’s better, if you can sell, to sell because it’s hard for farmers going into the summer,” said one farmer. He welcomed the decision for this mart to continue operations.

The entrance to the Mayo/Sligo mart with guidelines to prevent the spread of Covid-19 on the door. Photo: Cait Caden.

Other marts made a different decision and chose to close for public health and safety while the virus continues to spread.

Aurivo, the agricultural business, decided to suspend all its livestock sales temporarily, bringing its network of marts to a halt.

The company made this decision before Taoiseach Leo Varadkar brought in new restrictions to stop the spread of the virus today.

All marts are now to shut from now until further notice and farm-to-farm trading will be the only option for farmers to buy and sell while these restrictions are in place.

Aurivo, a global agricultural business, decided to suspend all its livestock sales temporarily, bringing its network of marts to a halt.

Aurivo made the decision on Monday, March 23, one day before the separate Mayo/Sligo Mart chose to go ahead. This decision was made due to the escalation of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a statement by Aurivo.

“People are worried about selling them in the mart.”

Farmer at the Mayo/Sligo Mart

Aurivo stated: “Our priority is the health and safety of our employees; members; customers; suppliers; and the communities in which we operate.”

The group’s pre-booked marts in Ballymote this Thursday as well as Balla and Mohill on Saturday will still go ahead, but with protocols in place. These include:

  • Only customers that have business to conduct should attend the marts;
  • Strictly no children allowed;
  • Buyers must observe the recommended protocols around social distancing and there will be restrictions around the number of sellers allowed to attend the ring;
  • Sellers who do not want to attend to sell can request the mart to do so on their behalf;
  • All mart canteen facilities will be closed with immediate effect;
  • Anyone who has been out of the country recently or been in contact with people exhibiting any symptoms of Covid-19 is asked not to attend.

The Mayo/Sligo Mart, for its part, decided to stay open for business until further notice, but put in place some restrictions also including:

  • Those who are not buyers, sellers or hauliers are asked not to enter the mart;
  • No children are allowed to enter;
  • Those in attendance are asked to keep the required safe distance from each other at all times in the yard and at the ringside;
  • All sales rings will be limited to a maximum of 100 people;
  • Anyone that has been out of the country or been in contact with anyone exhibiting any symptoms should not attend.

“Oh it has slowed down a bit.”

Farmer at the Mayo/Sligo Mart

The Mayo/Sligo Mart’s website also states that anyone that wants to buy or sell livestock and does not want to attend the mart will be accommodated – they just need to contact the office.

“People are worried about selling them in the mart,” says the farmer. Still, he is pleased the sale is going ahead.

Many at the mart were not practising the two-metre social distancing rule. Most of the attendees were elderly men, which the virus is known to target. Photo: Cait Caden.

When the sale began, an announcement was made over the microphone to respect social distancing while at the mart.

There were about 40 farmers at the cattle mart and no children were present. Some wore the latex gloves provided. Two were seen wearing masks. It was an unusual scene for any mart regular.

Many were seen to wear latex gloves and some attendees brought their own mask. Photo: Cait Caden.

“Oh it has slowed down a bit,” joked one farmer who did not want his name to be made public.

Social distancing was more of a priority for some than others, though. There were farmers who kept their distance, while others huddled around the ring disregarding the two-meter social distance guideline.

“We’re working within the guidelines of the HSE,” says Alan McCormick, chairperson of the Mayo/Sligo Mart.

Before Varadkar announced the new measures to be put in place, the Mayo/Sligo mart planned to continue operating and that the decision to do so would be reviewed daily, McCormick told The Currency.

He added that the organisers of the mart received requests to keep the mart open for as long as possible.

Before the Taoiseach’s announcement, McCormick said that “the vast majority of marts remain open around the country because they are a vital part of the food supply chain.”

One anonymous farmer told The Currency he believes that conducting a mart at the moment “is just greed. No consideration for others”.

A health and safety event organised by Teagasc took place at this mart in July 2019.

It focused on a number of issues concerning the health and safety of both the farmer and the farm family.