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Farmers followed along as auctioneer Jason Aycock sold off more than 500 pieces of farm equipment, new and old, on the Batts Farm between Wilson and Elm City.
Aycock began each sale with a high price offer, then backed off to a lower one before steadily climbing out of the basement and in most cases approaching or exceeding that original starting point.
Bids came in from the hundreds of potential buyers out April 6 to get a good deal.
The sale had been advertised in mailing brochures, social media, the auctioneer’s website and several newspapers. Aycock estimated between 500 to 600 people came out.
“We had buyers represented here from Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania and Ohio as well as Missouri,” Aycock said.
Despite being late in the season for a farm auction, the sale went well for the Batts family.
“We sold everything,” Aycock said. “In today’s agricultural economy, I thought everything went beyond expectations. Price-wise, I feel like the market was above average.”
Aycock said 98 percent of auction items were from the Batts family farm, with the rest being a few local consignments from neighbors.
According to Aycock, the Batts farming operation ceased “for health reasons only” and other family members “supported that decision.”
The Batts situation isn’t typical of most farm closures. A study of the classified ads over several months reveals many farms going out of business across the region with the equipment being auctioned off to the highest bidder.
“We have had some sales this year, and as far as the state of the economy, there is just so much uncertainty with low, suppressed commodity prices and the uncertainty of the tobacco industry,” Aycock said. “It’s just a lot of uncertainty, but the market has sustained itself and proven itself to be a very viable market right now.”
‘ADAPTING AND CHANGING’
“The Battses have farmed this land right here for the last 80 years,” Aycock said. “You can see the items that were used years ago to the present day.”
Even if an item was rusty and may not have been used for decades, it still sold.
“It’s very common on every farm that you go to that you have some items that were used by some previous generations,” Aycock said.
C.Y. Parrish, a Chowan County farmer, was among those who traveled to attend the Batts Farm auction.
“That disc there, a lot of them don’t use that anymore,” Parrish said, pointing to a folding disc harrow among the farm implements for sale.
“It’s always changing,” Parrish said. “You get something and then they come up with something better.”
Wilson County farmer Adam Gardner agreed.
Every year there is always some new attachment or a modification of an old one.
“You don’t know what’s going to happen. You take stuff off, put stuff on, take stuff off,” Gardner said. “Farming’s always evolving every year.”
“Most of your farmers now are getting to the point where you almost got to have a mechanical engineer to go with it because whether you buy something this year that’s brand-new, next year they have already made a change to it whether it’s advancements in it, made it bigger,” said Ben Sharpe, an Elm City farmer. “You are constantly changing. It used to be the farmer kept the same piece of equipment maybe 20 years and didn’t change nothing about it other than the plows. Now, this year you run it, you go back up there, see where they have already made a change to it. Either you are going to spend some money and pay somebody else to change it or you learn how to do a lot of it yourself.”
Spencer and Russell Davis of Davis Farms in the Rock Ridge community said smaller farming operations can’t afford to change equipment often.
“It’s hard for small farmers to be able to do that,” Russell Davis said.
The larger farm operations have the capital to change over frequently.
“These guys change every three years, but for a normal family farm, they can’t hardly afford to do that every three years,” Spencer Davis said.
As the brothers walked along the line of equipment, they hadn’t purchased anything.
“There’s a lot of wants,” Russell Davis said. “There’s plenty of good equipment here, but it’s what you can justify and what you can afford.”
‘A SAD AFFAIR’
For Jerome Vick, one of the larger-scale farmers in attendance, the auction was a bit depressing.
“I think the ugliest thing I ever saw in my life was a pickup truck with a loudspeaker on it,” Vick said. “Here’s a man who’s worked all his life and accumulated whatever he has accumulated, and here in about a half a day they are going to liquidate every bit of it. I think it’s a sad affair myself.”
Vick said agriculture is in a down cycle.
“We are not doing very well in agriculture right now,” Vick said. “Now, it will come back because people have got to eat, but it’s a matter of who’s going to survive during this period of time. I think some of the smart ones are those that liquidate early. Those that liquidate too late, it may be too late. They might not get what they’ve worked for.
“This sale, I think, is selling pretty good right now from what I can tell, but there is never enough to get back what the man has spent on all his stuff all his life and accumulated.”
A John Deere 996 harvester went for $121,000. A John Deere 4730 sprayer went for $125,000. A John Deere 8235R tractor went for $127,000. Those fairly new machines went for competitive prices.
“You see a lot of the bigger farmers that are out here looking at the equipment going a lot cheaper. It benefits them, but it’s bad for the farmer that’s having to sell it,” Sharpe said. “With so many of them taking these big cuts on tobacco, it’s hurting a lot of them.”
Sharpe said it gives farmers “a little uneasy feeling.”
“Tobacco has just always been there. Everything else, you did it just so you had some rotation, something else to keep going. You can’t plant tobacco in the same place every year,” Sharpe said. “So now, with all of them taking these cutbacks, before it was just smaller farmers going out, but now we have got a lot of large farmers here in Wilson County and Nash County that are taking big cuts. If they get a little nervous, I don’t what that is saying for the rest of us.”
“It’s not real good right now,” said Russell Davis. “That’s all I can say about it.”