SALEYARDS across Australia have started limiting public access to livestock auctions to limit the spread of the coronavirus or COVID-19 and continue sales in the face of tightening people gathering restrictions.
Some saleyard managements have moved to exclude members of the public from sales, while others will still allow livestock sellers to attend; however, some centres do not have the legal ability or resources to limit sale attendance.
The management of other saleyards are meeting this week to decide how they can continue weekly sales after the Federal Government advised limiting organised gatherings to fewer than 500 people.
Saleyard managers and agents are also concerned about the possibility of forced closure of yards and a glut of livestock going direct to abattoirs, potentially lowering prices.
Western Australia’s Muchea Livestock Centre began enforcing swipe card security on its gates on Monday this week to limit general public visitors.
MLC chief executive officer Greg Lott said producers who have business at the yards are still able to attend.
“This is a public facility and we have a public auction and we are just stopping members of the general public to reduce numbers.”
Access to the saleyards is via manned security gates controlled by swipe cards, but the names of producers who want to attended sales are recorded, he said.
The Horsham Rural City Council has advised that access to its regional livestock exchange’s weekly sales will be limited to buyers and stock agents as measures are taken to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.
HRCC infrastructure director John Martin said to ensure that sales could continue, council needed to limit the attendance by non-essential people at the site. It was also conscious that many regular sale attendees are in an age bracket that is potentially more vulnerable to the virus.
“Council sees the Horsham Regional Livestock Exchange as a critical service to continue during the COVID-19 emergency, to help ensure food security.
“Access during the sale will be restricted to agents, buyers, transport operators and council staff,” he said.
“The general public will not be able to attend, even if they are sellers at the sale.”
“We are conscious that many regular attendees are in an age bracket that is potentially more vulnerable to the virus, and are taking this measure as a means of ensuring continuity of the sales.
The exchange’s manager Paul Christopher said the advice was that producers should not come to sales, although he did not have the resources to police this.
“You can only ask, it’s not a law.
“For public health, they should be smart enough to realise that’s the way it should be and there will be more of it happening,” he said.
The saleyard management was concerned if there was a coronavirus case traced to a sale it could potentially close sales, he said.
“It’s common sense as far as I am concerned.
“We want to be able to keep going, because we want people to be able to sell sheep and for Australians to have food.”
Livestock prices could “plummet” if saleyards were closed and all stock had to be sold direct to abattoirs, he said.
“Some will say we are not price setters and maybe we are not, but we keep the prices up there – that’s why we’ve got 22,600 (lambs and sheep) tomorrow.”
Ouyen Livestock Exchange follows suit
The Ouyen Livestock Exchange also advised today that its operation was a critical service to continue during the COVID-19 emergency.
“To ensure that sales can continue, we recommend attendance by non-essential people at the site be avoided wherever possible.
“We recommend access during the sale be for only agents, buyers, transport operators and OLE staff,” the exchange email said.
“We not recommend that the general public attend, even if they are sellers at the sale.
“We are conscious that many regular attendees are in an age bracket that is potentially more vulnerable to the virus, and are taking this measure as a means of ensuring continuity of the sales.”
No decision had been made in relation to the Hamilton saleyards yesterday, but stock agent Heath Templeton supported the measures to be implemented at Horsham.
“I don’t think it is the worst idea; we don’t want our saleyards closed down at all.
“If farmers don’t see their stock sold, it won’t make a difference to the price.”
Mr Templeton discounted any concerns about transparency.
“If someone can’t trust their agent enough they shouldn’t be dealing with them should they?
“An agent’s job is to make someone more money so that they make more money,” he said.
Wagga advises against producers attending sales
The Wagga Wagga saleyard management and agents today advised that due to the current COVID-19 impact to Australia and in the interest of public safety, health and wellbeing, the Wagga Wagga Livestock Marketing Centre will continue to trade with the following restrictions in place until further notice.
“At all times only agents, buyers, transporters, contractors and staff are permitted to attend the Wagga Wagga Livestock Marketing Centre.”
Centre manager Paul Martin said it would be business as usual at the yards for agents, transporters, contractors and staff. He said he has no jurisdictional powers to prevent producers attending sales.
“That is why that advice is written the way it is – it’s not mandatable, it’s not enforceable.
“We are taking all the appropriate actions that we can within the framework.”
He said the saleyard management and agents wanted to limit the spread of the virus through people catching it at the saleyards and taking it home or to a workplace.
More saleyards expected to limit public at sales
Australian Livestock Saleyards Association executive officer Mark McDonald said members were canvassed on Monday about coronavirus strategies and restricting saleyard attendance to essential staff was one option. He said enforcing limited attendance would be an issue for some yards.
“They would be relying on the agents to pass it onto their vendors.”
The ALSA members were concerned about sale transparency without producers attending, but they were more concerned about public health, Mr McDonald said. He expected more saleyards would limit attendances, but if there was a lockdown and sales were suspended, there would probably still be direct sales of livestock.
“They are talking about mandating on gatherings of 100 people and if that happens it would probably put saleyards out of action.”
Australian Livestock Markets Association executive Kate McGilvray said individual saleyards may choose to take additional measures, but the industry position was that saleyard gatherings would typically not be above 500 people, meaning the focus is on the personal distance and hygiene measures.
“Obviously nobody who is sick should be attending and there should be pre-sale announcements to reiterate hygiene practices and distancing, and if you are unwell to leave.
“It’s purely based on that 500-person rule and the exposure risk is based on that 15 minutes face-to-face contact and a two-hour prolonged exposure in a confined space,” she said.
“So if you are looking at saleyards, we are under the minimum of 500 and we are looking at large areas of ventilated space.”
Ms McGilvray said she was concerned about the transparency of sale with limitations on attendance, with Meat & Livestock Australia market reporters operating at most yards. She said ALMA was monitoring the situation and did not see any potential disruption to auction sales continuing.
“The saleyard industry will not fall apart because of this.”
Transparency concerns with producers not attending
One New South Wales wool grower said he was concerned about the level of transparency around sales if producers could not attend saleyards.
Victorian Farmers Federation Livestock Group president Leonard Vallance said the advice should be worded that if you didn’t need to go to a sale, don’t go. It was “going too far” to exclude producers from sales, he said.
“That doesn’t need to happen.”
“Common sense and personal hygiene will keep most people quite safe,” he said.
“And the old sensible farmers will say ‘perhaps I should stay home today’.”
Mr Vallance said the industry needs to send a very clear message to the Australian public, that red meat supplies will continue through the various supply chains.
“And there will be no shortage of red meat in Australia for the foreseeable future and the people in the industry know how to exercise personal care and will do their utmost to ensure the public have meat to eat.”