Saleyards operators and livestock agents are scrambling to ensure they can meet new social distancing measures as concerns mount over the safety of those who must attend sales.
The sudden cancellation or postponement of several cattle sales across Victoria yesterday has thrown up plenty of questions about the ability of livestock sales to continue and left many agents, buyers and vendors seeking certainty.
Elders farm supplies boss, Richard Norton, said saleyards, like every business, were vulnerable to disruption and lockdown because of coronavirus.
He said Elders was ready to play its part in transitioning livestock from farm to processing facility in the event of any temporary shutdown of saleyards.
The online selling platform, AuctionsPlus, was already handling record numbers and processors may have to use it more to purchase livestock, he said.
Mr Norton said a temporary shelving of saleyards would mean producers would lose the ongoing signals they provide for sheep and cattle prices.
New South Wales
Dubbo Regional Livestock Markets (DRLM) altered its operations for the Thursday (March 26) cattle sale by yarding stock in every second pen to assist in social distancing requirements.
By penning the cattle further apart it's hoped it will give the buyers more space to spread out along the walkways.
DRLM manager Ross McCarthy said the saleyards had played a significant and important role in social interaction and the mental health of the rural community.
"Unfortunately, current health circumstances do not allow social gatherings and by working together we can get back to business as usual, hopefully sooner rather than later," he said.
"DRLM will continue to trade, however, only those conducting direct business at DRLM - namely agents, buyers, transporters, contractors and staff - should attend the sales."
Related reading: No intention to cancel markets in NSW saleyards | Market Murmurs
Mr McCarthy also anticipated some delays on sale day as security would be in place to ensure only authorised people could access the site.
"In addition, there is an expectation only people that need to be onsite are here and they leave as soon as possible after the sale," he said.
"Much has evolved in the media over the last week with many non-essential businesses shut down.
"DRLM is committed to continuing trade as long as reasonably practical."
Forbes Shire Council reiterated its advice this week that visitors should not visit Forbes Central West Livestock Exchange during the COVID-19 pandemic if it is not essential to do so.
It said only agents, buyers, council staff and transport operators should attend sales.
In its commitment to the continued operation of the saleyards, everybody entering the selling centre was now required to sign in to ensure the council had a complete register of people entering.
These new practices also apply to those attending the Regional Livestock
Exchange (RLX) network of livestock selling facilities which include the sales of Inverell, Carcoar, Singleton, Tamworth and Wodonga.
AAM Investment Group (AAM) manages and operates RLX facilities and its managing director, Garry Edwards, said key additional changes included capturing the sign-in details of all people present at each sale and actively monitoring attendance and buying activity.
"Those who flout the rules will be excluded," he said.
"Electronic sign-in systems are being fast tracked so that essential site users and staff can continue operations with minimal disruption."
Central Tablelands Livestock Exchange, Carcoar, will host the annual Autumn Classic Weaner Sale on Friday (March 27) and agents have advised that anybody who wished to buy any of the 5000 weaners offered should do it via one of the nominated professional buyers or licensed agents.
The sale will be interfaced on Stock Live for live-streaming and online bidding and buyer access will be preferentially restricted to professional buyers and licensed agents.
The owners of Australia's largest selling centre, the Roma Saleyards, today moved to assure the community that the weekly combined store and prime sales would continue.
A statement released this morning by the Maranoa Regional Council, said the saleyards provided an essential service and was vital to maintaining supplies of cattle to market.
"Roma Saleyards remains open for business and continues to encourage healthy competition with its weekly Tuesday Store Sales," the statement reads.
However, entry to sales in Roma will be limited to essential agents, registered active buyers with genuine intention to purchase, saleyard workers and transport coordinators (one representative from each company).
Attendees will be required to register and must practise social distancing by creating a 1.5m distance from others and exercise good hygiene.
"We recognise that the management of this pandemic is continually evolving, with measures that can sometimes change on a near-daily basis," the statement reads.
A number of Victorian store sales were cancelled this week but prime sales were set to go ahead.
The store sale cancellations weren't universal, however with Nutrien Ag Solutions branch manager, Russell Mawson confirming the store sales at Euroa (April 1) and Yea (April 3) were going ahead.
Related reading: Victorian cattle sales cancelled due to COVID-19
"We are in business and these sales will absolutely go ahead," he said.
"We will be ensuring that the rules about social distancing are complied with. People are not stupid.
"The abattoirs and processors are open and we need to keep that chain going."
Landmark Greenwood principal Ben Greenwood, Sale, said a decision about the site's planned store sale next Friday would be made by the end of this week.
He said agents would monitor other sales before making a decision.
The prime sale would continue but only with strictly necessary staff and buyers attending.
Operators of the RLX network of saleyards that included Ballarat, AAM Investment, managing director, Garry Edwards said strict new rules "will be enforced".
He said every legitimate buyer attending a sale site would be required to wear visual identification as an accredited buyer and would need to sign in electronically.
If people failed to adhere to the rules "they might find tough consequences in the future", he said.
"Not everyone has been listening and we are still getting people coming who should not be," he said.
He said sales would be reviewed to identify if people were signing in as a buyer and not buying.
Online platform, AuctionsPlus, Project manager, Tom Rookyard, said the impact of cancellations had been immediate.
In the past seven days there had been a huge influx of numbers, in line with physical sales.
The cancellations had seen a sharp rise in agents inquiring about holding special sales and stud sales online.
Colac Associated Agents president Matt Nelson said the store sale scheduled for Friday April 3 had been cancelled.
He said the expected yarding of 1000 would find other avenues to sale or be retained by vendors.
The centre's weekly prime cattle sale would continue under strict rules as at other centres, he said.
South Australia's four weekly prime livestock sales went ahead this week amid growing coronavirus restrictions.
Following the recommendations of the Australian Livestock & Property Agents Association, the gallery was limited to active buyers and stock agents.
Meanwhile, Naracoorte combined agents chairman Scott Bittner said the monthly store cattle sale would be held today (Thursday).
"We don't think there are a whole lot of cattle coming in a month's time and there is a level of uncertainty going forward so we need to make it happen while we can and give our clients the opportunity to sell their livestock," he said.
Mr Bittner said some companies had imposed travel restrictions on their buyers but they had worked hard to ensure they could still operate using a "trusted business associate".
"The clear message coming out from the government is they want industry to continue on as long as we can," he said.