Whether you’re moving off the homeplace or not, a farm auction can be one of the largest events a farmer will ever host in their own yard. This gathering of neighbors, friends, and prospective buyers is essentially no different than any other public event. It takes advanced planning and organization, and even then, you’ll still have to be prepared for the unexpected.
Auction sales can be a little like a funeral in the sense that you’ll never know exactly how many are going to attend. A professional auctioneer can give you a fairly educated guess relevant to your area in combination with the condition and selection of your sale items, but remember, it’s still just a formulated guess and the numbers are highly susceptible to changes in the weather.
These following points will give you some basic instructions and further ideas you may not have considered.
- Booking the Sale Date: Remember that the condition of your yard will play a major factor on the day of the sale. Although most farmers prefer a spring auction, soggy grass, muddy sideroads, and auction goers stuck in your designated parking areas will create havoc. In addition, you’ll need at least two weeks of decent weather prior to the sale to prepare and move equipment.
- Auction Flyer: Your auctioneer will likely want to photograph a selection of your equipment months ahead to advertise your sale. Taking a day to power-wash and present your larger pieces in the best light is recommended, so always ask which equipment he’s planning on photographing so you can have them ready.
- Reserved/Unreserved Auctions: We usually have a fair idea what each piece of equipment in our yard is worth and aren’t interested in selling it for anything less. But if you can, try to avoid the urge to set reserve bids at your sale, since many competitive buyers won’t even bother attending auction sales with a long list of reserve bids. If you feel you must reserve, keep it to a bare minimum of items.
- Bargain Hunters: As soon as your auction flyer is circulated, you can expect calls and drop-ins from uninvited buyers looking to bargain with you ahead of time. Resist the urge to presell auction items, but be prepared for these calls, especially if you have a varied selection of antiques or unusual sporting items listed on your flyer.
- Large Equipment Prep: Break your equipment into 3 categories. The pieces you won’t be using one month prior to the auction, the pieces you might use the week before, and the odd piece you’ll definitely be using the day before the sale. The pieces you’re not using can be pre-cleaned with a pressure washer a month before the sale. Don’t forget to sweep out the cabs, wipe down interiors, and clean windows with Windex and a roll of paper towel. The week of the sale clean up the second group. Always make sure to leave yourself time the night before, or the morning of the sale, to clean the pieces of equipment you used within the last 24 hours. Buyers appreciate clean, even if the equipment will be just as dirty after their very first use. Take the time to wash oily hydraulic hoses, dusty cabs, and mud splattered bodies. Presentation matters, even on implements without cabs.
- Sale Organization: Your auctioneer will usually start with any household items, moving to miscellaneous and tools, then lawn/garden/sporting equipment. They will conclude the sale with the large and most valuable farming equipment. Household and miscellaneous are best sorted into lots about the size of a wooden pallet. Should you expect the auctioneer to sell each kitchen stool or crescent wrench separately, you run the risk of boring or frustrating your bidders and having them leave your sale. All household and miscellaneous items should be organized in rows, leaving room for the auctioneer’s pick-up truck (usually housing his microphone and bookkeeper) to drive up and down the rows while auctioning. Most auctioneers also travel with their own ‘bid spotters’ but they may ask you to provide a helper to lift up miscellaneous items for display during the actual bidding. Having a portable power pack to plug-in electrical tools for the auctioneer before bidding can double the price.
- Food Service: Many auctioneers have food trucks that follow them from sale to sale. If they don’t, calling a few organizations two months in advance will give them a chance to prepare a food/beverage stand, enabling the group to make a few dollars off the event. A local 4-H club, church organization, or sports team will usually welcome the opportunity to earn some extra cash.
- Litter: It’s always important to have trash bins set up next to the food service, but garbage bins set all around your yard are also a great idea, as most people will pick up their food and beverage, and then wander back to the live auction area to eat. Trash barrels lined with garbage bags that can be pulled out and replaced when full are a necessity, especially those bordering the food service area. Note: Most food services will need access to power for food preparation and warming. Large boxes designated for recycling bottles and cans is also a great idea.
- Washrooms: I strongly suggest renting at least two chemical toilets for the auction date, one labelled male and one female. The general rule of thumb is two toilets for every 100 people in attendance.
- Parking: You must have available parking, within walking distance is best. If the auctioneer is guessing 200 attendees, then you can average 2 persons per vehicle, thus requiring parking for roughly 100 vehicles. A stubble or hayfield next to your yard is the best bet. If you need to provide some sort of shuttle service, this shuttle will have to run continually between the auction and the lot, as people will be coming and going throughout.
- Blocking Off Your Yard: All driveways and field entrances must be blocked and monitored, especially your main driveway. If you just set up a blockade, people will move it aside and drive right into your yard. You do not want people crammed in your main yard and parking wherever they please during the sale. Feel free to reserve a few spaces for immediate family, just make sure the attendant watching the driveway is furnished with a list and only lets in those you want. Having no strangers parking in your yard helps to alleviate theft, as thieves are not as eager to try and carry stolen items all the way back to designated parking areas.
- Pets: If you can’t confine family pets to your house or an enclosed building, tying them up will not be enough. It safest to consider boarding them at a neighbor’s yard for the day. Some children, and a few adults, get perverse pleasure out of teasing or taunting animals. Best to remove all temptation from your yard and stop any possible injuries or lawsuits. Even the tamest dog can turn angry when being teased hour after hour. Don’t be surprised if some sale goers even show up with their own dogs in tow.
- Residence: Your home or any sub-residences on the property must be locked at all times. If family will be coming and going into the residence and you’re unable to keep it locked, at least assign a trustworthy person to stand guard in the house and make sure only those you have invited are allowed inside. Outdoor washrooms and food trucks are for everyone to use, your home is not a public bathroom or a free lunch-stop.
- Security: Besides residences, and family vehicles, lock up as many of your out buildings as possible, even if you have to temporarily close off the entrances with boards and nails or locks and chains. Theft and vandalism can run rampant at some auctions, especially where larger crowds are milling around. Don’t ever assume that valuables will be safe just because they’re across the main yard from the sale. People will wander everywhere, even where you’d least expect them to go.
- Day Of The Sale: Some out-of-town bidders may stop by the night before or the morning of the sale to check out your large equipment. Be prepared to start the machinery for them, but don’t be pressured into moving it or allowing strangers to drive your equipment. More than one farmer has reported damage or flooded carburetors the day of the sale to lower machinery values. During the auction sale, no keys should ever be left in any equipment.
- Shill Bidding: Having family or friends try to up the sale price by placing the odd bid on your items is a dangerous game. If word starts to circulate around the sale that you have ‘shill bidders’ in the crowd, you might find yourself without any bidders at all.
- Helpers: You need a small dependable crew onsite before, during, and directly after the auction. First – Gate/Parking Attendant makes sure no one enters your immediate yard and directing visitors to your designated parking. A colored vest and cellphone to stay in touch with farm owners is helpful. Secondly – House Attendant making sure no one other than immediate family has access to the house. Again, a list is not a bad idea. An available first aid kit at the house’s entrance can also be beneficial for anyone with minor cuts and bruises. Thirdly – Equipment Starter. This is someone familiar with your farm machinery who will be designated to start the machines at the auctioneer’s instruction during the bidding. He should be carrying a large ring of pre-labelled keys, as no keys will be left in equipment during the morning’s preview, or sale. An assortment of dollar store rain-slickers with hoods is a good idea for family and helpers.
- Gopher: This person will be responsible for changing out the garbage bins as they fill throughout the yard, trading off with the gate attendants for their lunch/washroom breaks, and helping buyers move their vehicles into the yard for load-up of their smaller purchases. Having your gopher check toilet paper levels every two hours in the chemical toilets is also a good idea.
- Drinking and Partying: Many visitors and family at auction sales will come prepared to have a few drinks to celebrate this milestone in your life. I strongly suggest not drinking during your sale, you’ll have a lot of time that night or the following day when the masses have left your yard. Encouraging alcohol consumption during an auction sale has led to more than one fistfight and hard feelings between long time neighbors.
- Load-Up: Many buyers will ask for help loading their miscellaneous or even midsized purchases for transport. This is a job for your designated gopher, however having a frontend loader on site with chains/straps and shackles is also a good idea. If you’re selling all your equipment, pre-borrowing a neighbor’s tractor and having it available for just this reason can be helpful. When loading a purchase for transport, it’s always a good idea to see their paid sales receipt, as more than one thief has loaded up auction items that they never paid for and drove them right off the site.
- Your Sale: It’s your land, and your equipment, and no one knows it better, but it’s best if all the helper jobs are assigned to people other than you or your spouse. There will always be small emergencies that need your attention, and if you’ve designated workers to handle the expected jobs, you’ll always be free to handle the unexpected.
- Clean-Up: No matter how many garbage bins you have set around your yard, be prepared for a few hours of trash pick up and empty bottle/can retrieval after all the bidders have left.
- After the Sale: It may be days, or even weeks before all the sold items are removed from your yard, as many buyers have to either arrange transport for large equipment purchases or return with another vehicle to transport their miscellaneous items. Be prepared to stay at home for at least two weeks after the sale to facilitate all the pick-ups.
Auction sales can be the emotional conclusion of a farming operation that has been in the family for generations. They can also be brought on by retirement, divorce, death, or even the termination of an unsuccessful partnership. As a proud member of THE FIFTY CANDLES CLUB, I watched my parents as their farm was sold off to the highest bidder, and I promise you from experience, your emotions will run the gambit during your sale.
The bottom line…an auction sale is a conclusion, and the more you are prepared, the more likely you are to weather the stress of the event and come out smiling.