By Debbie James

An auctioneer firm’s decision to suspend sales of lambs, calves and store cattle at Whitland and Crymych marts for at least three weeks has been described as a blow for local farmers.

JJ Morris said none of its marts would operate for three weeks in response to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

Nock Deighton, which runs Newcastle Emlyn mart, has also cancelled its forthcoming marts.

Although the government’s directive on the suspension of livestock sales only applies to dairy cattle and breeding stock, JJ Morris said it had taken the decision to cancel all sales to protect its staff and the farming community.

Auctioneer Huw Evans, who runs the mart at Whitland, said human health concerns had forced that decision.

“We appreciate that marts are vital for keeping the wheels turning in the livestock sector but with the government suspending sales of dairy cattle and breeding stock for three weeks we felt it was appropriate that we should no longer continue with our marts for now,’’ he said.

With sales held at Whitland on the first and third Saturday of the month, Mr Evans said the company hoped the mart would be up and running on April 18.

Many farmers who do not sell cattle and lambs on a large commercial scale are reliant on livestock mart and the suspension of marts will cause cashflow difficulties and increase their cost of production.

Live auction marts are also regarded as vital to setting a base market price, particularly for lambs.

The coronavirus has already resulted in a significant reduction in prices for some classes of stock because exports have slowed and there is concern that without live markets they will fall further.

Mr Evans admitted that the closures would be a blow for farmers but said the company was putting in place measures for sales outside of physical auction

These could take the form of private on-farm sales although these do have an element of risk as the involve an auctioneer, a buyer and a seller, he admitted.

The company is also trying to set up sales using photographs of the animals being offered for sale, although this is currently aimed at dairy stock.

Nock Deighton said it had taken the decision to cancel its markets due to the town centre location of Newcastle Emlyn Livestock Market and the potential difficulties of social distancing of two metres.

"The right thing to do now is to act to protect each other, our families, our customers, our work colleagues and the communities we live in," it said in a statement.

BJP’s marts at Carmarthen and Llandeilo are continuing to operate but on a strict 'drop and go' policy with social distancing enforced.

However the firm will not be running Tuesday marts at Haverfordwest.