With public gatherings limited to no more than 10 people in many parts of the U.S. because of the threat of COVID-19, it may be easy to assume farmers and ranchers aren't buying much equipment or land at auction these days.
However, with options such as online auctions, buyers still are interested in buying assets such as farm machinery and ag land, says Mark Stock, president and co-owner of Columbus, Neb.-based BigIron Auctions and Realty.
"Most states are not allowing groups of more than 10 people to congregate for any event, so that pretty much eliminates a public auction," Stock says. "Our online auction platform has been quite active with people wanting to sell machinery or having land to sell. We've even got other real estate auction companies calling asking to sell things."
These are uncharted waters for people around the world, including U.S. ag producers. Stock notes BigIron has been broadcasting sales on the internet for nearly 20 years, and has had online-only auctions for 11 years, building up a bidder base across the country.
Still, he notes, there has been a significant increase in online bidders with social distancing and shelter-in-place orders in effect.
"For our machinery sale on March 18, we had 20% more users than our typical online auction," he says. "Our new registrations and new users were through the roof because people are sitting at home or in the shop, and everyone is practicing social distancing.
"They're searching the internet to find what they're looking for. We sold a little over 2,000 items on the machinery side on March 18. We had over 54,000 unique IP addresses watching that sale at the time period the auction was going on."
BigIron Auctions holds online machinery sales every Wednesday, and BigIron Realty hosts online land sales on most Thursdays. Stock notes that while land sales are seeing their typical spring slowdown, bidder interest in ag land has remained stable, while bidder interest in farm machinery has increased.
"This slowdown is pretty typical," Stock says. "We still have a seller's market. There just is not a lot of land being sold. The land that's selling is usually a trust or an estate."
"We're getting a lot of interest for the land we're selling and scheduled for auctions," Stock adds. "Some folks have pulled out of the stock market and want to move to something a little more stable.
"Farmland is more stable, and it doesn't move so fast up and down. Interest rates are super low. You can get 3.5% locked rates for 20 years. That's keeping people interested in buying land."
And, as the average age of farmers and ranchers continues to increase, so does the amount of machinery being sold in retirement auctions.
"Bear in mind the people retiring, the majority of their equipment is pristine," Stock says. "They may have retired two or three years ago and didn't sell their machinery because they were still selling grain and getting their cash flow figured out.
"Because the last two years haven't been stellar years, a lot of folks have made the decision to do retirement auctions. We have people lined up to the end of the year. We have a handful of people who have already talked to us about having their sale in 2022."