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Farm auction tradition radically changed by lockdown

Ron Walter reminisces about a favourite activity.
Trading Thoughts by Ron Walter

Farm auctions have been around for 2,000 years.

In those two millennia, farm auctions have become a common method to quickly sell farm equipment, tools and all the stuff a farmer accumulates during decades of tilling the soil.

Farm auctions became a social event as well as a merchandising technique.

The auction brought together neighbours from the community, and when transportation improved, from other communities to bid on the items on the block and to socialize.

The gathering gave people an opportunity to mingle and visit and relieve some of the stress associated with remote rural life.

For some neighbours, it was a chance to see just what the farmers had in their possessions.

Serious buyers looked to fill needs or for bargains. Others sought small tools and household treasures — things often sold in a mystery box of items.

Food has always been a focus of farm auctions. The event runs into the afternoon. Preparing and selling food was usually done by  the local ladies club, 4-H or community club.

When no such organization was available the auctioneer provided the service. Switzer Auctions had a woman who made awesome cream pie and lemon pie.

I recall meeting a woman who was a little girl at my grandfather’s auction sale in the 1940s. His only memory was a tub filled with sandwiches.

A friend and I used to attend several farm auctions every year,  coming home with treasures — junk according to my partner/wife.

One of my most treasured finds was a box with old comics. Inside was a glass jar full of round blue tokens. Each was marked: Good for one pound of meat.

The tokens were used to ration meat during the two world wars. Rationing in the Second World War was by paper coupons. These could be from the 1914-1918 conflict.

All that social atmosphere from farm auctions  is now gone — victim of the pandemic lockdown.

Auction companies got around the lockdown by going totally online and have stayed that way.

Bidders register and bid online from the comfort of their homes. If they want to inspect the items on sale, they need to make an appointment to view them. And they can’t remove anything bought until after the auction.

The online auction is more cost-efficient for the auctioneer and less intrusive for the farmer selling out. One auction firm advertises 25,000 registered online bidders — can't beat that

No longer do crowds gather at the farm auctions — some attracted hundreds of folks.

There's no more need for food suppliers.

It’s all straight business now, ending 2,000 years of combined business and social activity. How sad.

Ron Walter can be reached at

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication. 

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