Coronavirus forces closure of Norwich Livestock Market

Norwich Livestock Market has been closed until further notice due to concerns over coronavirus. Pict

Norwich Livestock Market has been closed until further notice due to concerns over coronavirus. Picture: Chris Hill - Credit: Archant

Norwich Livestock Market has been closed due to concerns over coronavirus – but an online sales register is being developed to allow farmers to continue trading animals urgently needed within the UK food chain.

Norwich Livestock Market chairman Stephen Lutkin with some of his cattle at Langley, near the Cantle

Norwich Livestock Market chairman Stephen Lutkin with some of his cattle at Langley, near the Cantley sugar factory. Picture: Andy Darnell - Credit: Archant © 2009

The fortnightly market on Hall Road was last held on March 21, before the wide-ranging lockdown measures were announced by the prime minister on March 23.

The Livestock Auctioneers’ Association Limited (LAA) issued guidance last week saying these markets retain an important role in supplying meat into the food chain, and could continue if they adopt a series of protective measures including ending the sale of all breeding livestock in live sale rings, enforcing two-metre social distancing rules, and operating a “drop and go” policy requiring vendors to stay in their vehicles when bringing animals for sale.

But the directors of Norwich Livestock Market have made their own “difficult decision” to postpone all future sales until further notice in order to protect their staff and the farmers who gather at the market – many who are in the over-70s age group most at risk from the virus.

Market chairman Stephen Lutkin said: “We are not the only market to take this decision – some are carrying on, but each must make their own decisions.

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“The directors had a chat about it and there are a lot of rules that we would have to put in place, and the drovers would have a lot of responsibilities with a drop-and-go system. And if you think of an auction ring, the two-metre rule is very difficult to police.

“A lot of our buyers are in that over-70s age group who are being advised not to go out, so we felt for the staff and the customers it was best to leave it for a while to see how things progress.”

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“We will be doing a private sales register farm-to-farm instead. It will be similar to how it was during Foot and Mouth outbreak [in 2001].

“We know our customers well. We can get people contacting the auctioneer – they have got a good idea of values and they know what type of customer we have got and who wants what type of stock. Then we have to sort the price out between the buyer and the seller. It is not ideal, but in these difficult times we have got to do what we can do.”

READ MORE: Could wartime-style ‘Pick For Britain’ campaign solve seasonal farmworker shortage?Mr Lutkin is a cattle farmer himself, with 240 suckler cows grazing on marshes at Langley near Loddon.

The 49-year-old said he is keenly aware of the need to protect farmers from Covid-19.

“I had a heart complaint a few years ago and I am on the register for a flu jab every year, so I am one of those high-risk people,” he said. “I was advised I should not be going to a market, and I have to take that advice.

“We will calve 150 cows in the next few months, so I cannot afford to get ill. Luckily the farm is all around us, so it does not bother us too much. I think the nature of our work means most farmers are self-isolating anyway, so we are lucky in some respects.

“We sell 8-14 of our cattle every sale at Norwich market, so this is going to be difficult for us, but now we will be putting our animals on the market website for private sale.”

• For more details on the private livestock sales register, see the Norwich Livestock Market website for updates. Farmers with animals to sell are asked to contact auctioneers Philip Dale (cattle and calves) on 07881 907504 or Tim Webster (sheep) on 07437 101163.

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