In April of 2020, Ballymahon Mart (Longford) will celebrate the milestone of 60 years trading. Mart Manager John O’Hanlon reflects on the changes that have occurred down through the years and their plans to keep pace with an ever-changing and challenging trading environment.
Longford/Westmeath Farmers’ Mart Ltd is commonly known as Ballymahon Mart and is a farmer owned livestock mart. Sales are held weekly on Thursdays (beef bullocks and heifers) and Tuesdays (weanlings and Suckler stock) during the Autumn months. In addition, they also have special sales during the year.
Ballymahon Mart has been in the centre of farming in Longford and south Westmeath for the best part of six decades and has an important role to play in the social and economic life of the local town and its surrounding environs.
Daisy’s kitchen is the popular restaurant in the mart which caters for the farming community who travel from all over Ireland to Ballymahon Mart.
According to John O’Hanlon, the Mart originated from the large fairs that took place once a month on the streets of Ballymahon and as those fairs were coming to an end a number of forward thinking farmers sought local support to establish a mart and were prepared to invest in shares to create a limited company.
“Local farmers in the area came together to take cattle off the street and get into a more modern way of selling livestock. A limited company with 50 shareholders was set up,” he explained.
John has been an ever present on the Mart’s payroll since 1993 and took over as Manager two years ago. He is also one of the five current directors of Longford/Westmeath Farmers’ Mart Ltd and is ably assisted by the long-serving Lily Trautt who is Assistant Manager and also Company Secretary.
“Lily has been here from the get go and has carried the can for a long number of years,” he stated. “Mary Martin, Mary Doyle and Rose Slevin are office staff and Vincent Connolly is the Head Yard Man, all of whom are long serving employees of the Mart. The mart employs two resident auctioneers, five office staff and we could have up to 14 lads working in the yard at peak times when the two rings are going. Most of the year we try to keep it to one ring to keep the costs down. Thursday is our sales day while we also have Weanlings sales on Tuesdays in the Autumn.”
The way the mart goes about its weekly business has changed dramatically in recent years. For example, pre-booking of cattle has helped streamline sales days.
“We are using a booking system that is probably unique in the country in that we book cards and hold them on file. It has proven to be an incredibly fast way of taking in cattle because a lot of the administration work is done in advance. From the farmers’ point of view it’s easier to queue in the mart with cards rather than queue with cattle. It involves a bit of effort on the administration end of things but it helps us deliver a good service and our farmers are used to it by now.”
Animal health and welfare requirements are always top of Ballymahon Mart’s list of priorities while a policy of continuous investment in the mart and the latest technology means John and his team operate a mart and provide a service that they are extremely proud of.
“It’s an old building but we are always investing in the mart. It’s always kept very well and power washed on a weekly basis. We have digital boards and screens and were the first mart to live stream our sales. We recently installed a processing water plant under the nitrate directive to be environmentally compliant.
Sales wise, the figures for 2019 so far makes for positive reading…
“Our numbers are up considerably on this time last year,” John revealed. “2018 was an horrendous year with the weather events that occurred. Trade has been steady this year and we had a typical Spring trade. We peaked at 630 cattle odd in the third week in April.
“We like to run a good ship, like to be organized and provide a good service to the customer. Our aim is to be as ‘good as any and better than most’ as the saying goes.”
On a negative note, the mart sector in this country is experiencing difficult times overall and John has called on farmers to avail of the services that they have to offer on a regular basis.
“Overall, there are over 80 marts in the country. There are a large amount of direct sales going on. Most marts are under pressure and will continue to be under pressure if that trend continues. It really has come to the point where we are facing a farmers will have to use them or lose them scenario.
“If farmers don’t use them they are going to go and they will find themselves having to drive longer distances to sell their cattle.”
The Company wish to thank the strong support from the local farming community which is the backbone of the survival and growth of Longford / Westmeath Farmers’ Mart LTD over the years.
Long may that continue!
Ballymahon Co. Longford
Phone: 090 643 2327
Email: [email protected]
Taken from Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 7 No 5, September/October 2019