By Debbie James

One of my enduring childhood memories is mart day, always a Wednesday and always at Carmarthen.

The day would start very early for my parents, often at 4.30am, as the cows had to be milked before the trailer was hitched up and the cattle loaded.

At that time the mart occupied a town centre site and Wednesday was the day when the countryside descended on the town, with farmers travelling from miles around to buy and sell livestock.

It was a hub of activity, with a convoy of livestock boxes snaking their way into the town.

Sale day was the highlight of the week for the region’s farming community, not only a place to sell cattle and sheep, but a social lifeline.

Farmers caught up on rural gossip around the pens and auction rings while their families shopped in the town or, as we often did, tucked into a custard slice or jam doughnut in the mart café. For that reason alone, it was the best day of the week.

A day out with like-minded people can help us all keep everything together and is good for the mind and soul.

For farmers, a weekly visit to the mart can be where they get that sustenance.

Marts make a unique contribution to Wales’ often remote rural communities so it is inconceivable that many are closing.

There will be more casualties too as many have been closed for several months due to the pandemic and may not reopen.

It's always sad to see an institution close, especially a once-busy market.

Nearly every town once had a market. A reason why they got going in the 1960s was to provide visibility and price transparency around what stock are worth.

They ensure that a fair trade is achievable for all livestock producers, through the competitive and transparent bidding platform that the live ring provides.

They have a critical function for setting a value for livestock specification.

And the mental health benefits provided by a vibrant auction mart business should not be underestimated.

Then there is the employment they provide – over 3,000 jobs across the UK are at livestock marts.

Closures are having a downward spiral on the rural economy, let’s hope it can be adjusted.