A sharp hike in payroll costs eroded the benefits of record livestock sales at Cork Marts last year, according to the co-op’s annual report.

Total livestock sales through Cork Marts’ six centres topped €135m in 2021, a hike of almost 40% on the €97m recorded in 2020.

However, a 27% rise in payroll costs – which jumped from €2.57m in 2020 to €3.25m in 2021 – meant that profits at the marts group fell marginally to €1.115m.

Cork Marts chair Lyle Buttimer said the COVID-19 restrictions and supports in place in 2020 were a factor in the €684,000 increase in payroll costs last year.

Payroll costs now account for one-third of Cork Marts’ total operating costs.

“This [the increase in payroll costs] is due to the reduction in operations in 2020 due to COVID, plus the State payroll supports available at the time, which ceased in the second half of 2020,” Buttimer said.

Sales of cattle and calves at the Munster-based marts group exceeded 200,000 head, the highest level recorded by the farmer-owned business for 25 years.

However, Buttimer conceded that the mounting uncertainty around calf exports could pose difficulties for Cork Marts into the future.

“While the live export of calves continues to play a vital role, it is continually facing challenges and there is now a genuine concern about its medium- to long-term prospects,” he said.

“Cork Marts are continuing to work with ICBF to offer a wider range of selling options to dairy farmers to move calves in the spring,” he added.

Cork Marts sold more than 72,000 sheep last year.

The business has assets of €23m and €5.16m of debts. It has reduced its debts by close to €5m since the start of 2019.