LIMITED numbers of farmers could be allowed to watch their stock being sold ringside as restrictions are being steadily eased at livestock marts.

But Cumbrian mart bosses will be urging farmers to take a sensible approach given the difficulties of maintaining safe distances around the sale pens and rings.

The easing of restrictions on vendors attending livestock sales at ringside follow ongoing discussions between industry officials and Defra.

Since lockdown began, farmers selling through a mart have been asked to comply with a “drop-and-go” system as part of a strategy to minimise social contacts.

But the Livestock Auctioneers Association (LAA) is stressing that social-distancing measures must be followed, and farmers need to take a sensible approach. One of LAA's biggest fears is if there is a second wave of the virus, which would have severe implications for the crucial autumn sales programme.“There is a limit as to how many people can be safely accommodated ringside and penside, and we ask farmers to work with us as we gradually advance towards reopening our markets to a greater extent,” said Chris Dodds, LAA executive secretary.

He said it is important to guard against complacency, with vendors encouraged to protect their own health and minimise the risk to others. “Our priority is of course public health, but, equally, we do not want to see the knock-on effects of marts having to temporarily close, or indeed, farmers put on a 14-day self-isolation, due to failures to minimise risks.”

On their website, leading Carlisle livestock auctioneer's, Harrison & Hetherington announced it would be their intention to hold the Annual Pedigree Sheep Sales scheduled for the autumn sale season through Borderway Mart. "Under the present government guidelines there will be restrictions applied to both vendors and purchasers attending the markets during these sales. With the guideline information changing on a weekly basis, the details of the restrictions to attend the sales will be announced nearer to the scheduled dates."

David Bowman, Auction Manager at Hopes of Wigton said there biggest worry was a second wave of the virus before the vital autumn sales. "Not just from the selling point of view, but also from the impact it would have on farmers mental health. It would be a problem if they did not get their cheques in to see them through the winter months. If we can have more people in our mart when we have a sale it is a better atmosphere, and to have a viable auction, you need a viable buying audience. But you have got to bear in mind the regulations that are in force."