Well “equipped” . . .Farmers are sold on Fayette County Farm Bureau auction

Posted on Apr 1, 2013
Thirty years ago, a small group of Fayette County FB leaders with connections to tobacco auction sales got an idea for raising a little money for the organization while providing a nice service to members. They decided to hold an auction for old and unwanted equipment and other farm items, with the Farm Bureau earning a small commission to use for its programs. The logical venue for the sale would be a tobacco warehouse.

To say this turned out to be a good  idea is a bit of an understatement. Farmers enthusiastically seized the opportunity to dispose of stuff lying around the farm. There was an ample number of prospective buyers, curious to see what’s available and at what price. The “market” was there; the challenge for the Farm Bureau was to spread the word about the auction.

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The auction attracted thousands from throughout the region, plus a good number from Ohio and Indiana.

That’s been done, and done well through many people. Roll the calendar far forward and what began in 1983 as a modest sale at a Lexington tobacco warehouse is now a huge event encompassing dozens of acres at the Kentucky Horse Park. This year’s auction, held on a balmy Saturday in March, sported 1,669 items for sale in four rows stretching the length of four football fields. More than 50 volunteer workers were required to administer the activities. Perhaps as many as 4,000 attended, creating quite a traffic backup on Iron Works Pike near the 1-75 interchange. In fact, traffic was still backed up by nearly a mile an hour after the auction began.

“It’s amazing,” remarked KFB Director Randy Chrisman of Anderson County as he surveyed the long line of traffic crawling through the main road into the Horse Park. He was among dozens of county FB leaders throughout the Bluegrass Region attending the event. Organizers said consignors came from six states. There were plenty of Ohio and Indiana license plates amid the sea of trucks filling the Horse Park’s main parking lot. Some parked in the fields across Iron Works Pike.

“Did you know we had this many farmers?” quipped Fayette County farmer John Fritz Jr. as he surveyed the mass of people walking through the aisles.

Three years after the auction’s beginning the Fayette County board decided to dedicate the revenues to a college scholarship program. It established a foundation for that purpose.

Since 1996, 28 scholarships have been granted, utilizing $587,000. This year’s record-setting auction resulted in $1.5 million in sales, generating a gross commission of $119,000 from the 7.5 percent commission.

“It’s definitely a record for everything,” said Carrie Johnson, Executive Director for Fayette County FB.

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The 1,669 items filled a space about 400 yards long in a field at the Kentucky Horse Park.

For years this was held in various tobacco warehouses. But it eventually outgrew those structures. The Kentucky Horse Park has proved to be a perfect locale (although state budget cuts has forced it to charge a parking fee, thereby creating the traffic jam).

Frank Penn, a longtime Fayette County FB leader and a stalwart within the Bluegrass Region’s thoroughbred and tobacco industries, has been there throughout the auction’s history.

“A few of us in the (tobacco) warehouse business started this mainly as a service,” Among those involved with initiating the auction, only Penn, Jimmy Barton, Bobby James and Hugh J. Turner are still active with it. One of the founders and continual supporters was lost when longtime Fayette County farm leader Harold Prather passed away on February 22.

Penn, a past president and longtime board member, said that one of the keys to the event’s success is an ample supply of workers fueled by the organization’s policy of rotating board members and restricting the president’s term to one year.

“We’ve run a lot of people through our board, which gives us a strong base,” he explained. “When you put together something like this, it really means a lot. This brings everyone together. That does a lot for Farm Bureau here.”

One example of the auction’s evolution could be found in what Penn was doing – driving the truck slowly pulling one of the auctioneer platforms from lot to lot.

“I remember when we did this with a tow motor and a pallet,” he recalled.

The variety of items for sale was astounding.  The list included a church bus, many mowers, haying equipment and trailers, manure spreaders, cattle feeders, tractors and even a couple of fishing boats. Three auctions were held simultaneously all day, with one focusing on small items such as generators, leaf blowers, mowers, tools, etc. Most of the auctioneers were from the equine industry.

Setup begins on the previous Wednesday and the site isn’t cleared until midday on the following Monday. Just a few weeks later, Fayette County FB has a meeting to go over how things went and to begin planning for the next year.

The big winner is the scholarship recipient who will get $5,000 annually for up to four years. There is no requirement as to the college or subject major.

Penn noted that Fayette County FB also is proud of the event’s reputation.

“This auction has a reputation as a straight-up auction. We treat people right. There’s no buying premiums. And these auctioneers are real pros - - they know what they’re doing.”

The clientele has been good as well, Penn added, stating: “You could count on one hand the number of bad checks we have gotten.”

Penn, Fritz and other “veteran” farmers also were pleased with the turnout of young farmers.

“If you think agriculture is fading, look around at all these young people,” Penn remarked.

Tagged Post Topics Include: Anderson County, Auction, Bobby James, Carrie Johnson, Equipment, Fayette County, Frank Penn, Harold Prather, Hugh J Turner, Indiana, Jimmy Barton, John Fritz Jr, Kentucky Horse Park, Ohio, Randy Chrisman, Scholarship