Roger Heller

DANUBE, Minn. — Perfect weather on Aug. 29 certainly set the stage for the farm retirement auction of Roger Heller — a long-time real estate/farm management specialist in Olivia, Minn.  With bright blue skies, temps in mid-70s, and a gentle breeze drifting across the horizon, buyers (and lookers) from a three-state area ventured four miles north of Danube.

Weather was less of an issue for the on-line bidders who hailed from eight states plus Canada and Mexico.

Heller, a South Dakota native and South Dakota State University ag education graduate, is known throughout the area thanks to 57 years in farm real estate. Plus, his initial start as a vocational agriculture instructor at Danube High School attracted former students — some now successful farmers — to see what Heller had to offer now that he was finally throwing in the towel. Equipment belonging to Heller’s 43-year ‘farming partner’ Blake Schroder added to the total iron and steel components put up for sale.

Handling this auction was the Steffes Group of Litchfield, Minn. — one of the bigger mid-America auction firms. Steffes was responsible for the eye-catching promotional brochure with color photos highlighting the exceptional power lineup of eight tractors — including two track units, a 2008 Caterpillar Challenger and a 2006 John Deere 8430T. The brochure stated, “Heller has farmed over 43 years and has now decided to retire. Major equipment is shedded with meticulous service and maintenance records. Online bidding available on all major equipment.”

One of the Steffes lead auctioneers, Ashley Huhn, stopped to chat just before his ‘call’ began and answered a few questions.

The Land. In view of the dismal farm economy, what’s your early read on today’s auction?

Huhn: Virtually every piece of equipment out here shows exceptional service.  Yes, the farm economy right now is definitely impacting our farm sales. However, this auction I think will do pretty good because clean equipment still brings a premium. At consignment sales with rougher-looking equipment, buyers are really discounting their bidding.

The Land: What percent of today’s auction do you predict will be on-line sales?

Huhn: All of our live auctions have on-line bidding … plus proxy bidding ahead of the sale. Today I venture around 50 percent will be on-line. We have about 240 live bid numbers issued today. The last time I checked, we had over 400 on-line registrations.  (Actual on-line sales was 58 percent.)

The Land: With no ‘bright spot’ ahead for this farm economy, how do you energize yourselves?

Huhn: People are always asking, ‘when is the best time to sell?’ When farmers are in a buying mood is my flippant answer. But quality of your merchandize is still the key criteria. Today we have quality plus Heller is a widely known personality … and that too makes an impact. Our Steffes team worked diligently planning the entire day’s event plus our website has become a big player in our success. We’re continually promoting our sales — sometimes even directly to trust attorneys, lawyers and bankers so they can better serve their customers.

The Land: Are some of these parties out here today?

Huhn: I’ve already talked to a few bankers, so they are here scouting and learning also. Yes, this is happening more often at farm auctions and it makes good sense that this segment of our farming economy stays tuned in to the real world of agriculture.

The Land: Are there any unique items to be found here today?

Huhn: Yes, always a few. That Hardi sprayer with a 132-foot boom, 1000 PTO, triple nozzle, 1,800 gallon tank just sold for $29,000 as we were talking. But big items today will be the tractors, that Caterpiller and a John Deere 9770 combine, also a John Deere 612C combine with chopping corn head.

The Land: Because of the reputation of Roger Heller, are there an exceptional number of lookers?

Huhn: Absolutely! When I talked with our crew putting this sale together, they said it’s been like Farmfest the past two weeks. A lot of outstate people come early, check out the equipment, then go home ready for on-line bidding cause they’ve now seen the particular equipment they’re interested in.  We have a gentleman from Medora, North Dakota … told me he drove all night just to be here.

Typically, most bidders are from within an eight-state area. But occasionally we’ll get bids from Canada, or eastern Cornbelt states like Michigan, Ohio. And occasionally even an overseas on-line buyer. Two weeks ago we had a Fordson tractor bought by a man from England. We crate it up and arrange for the shipping.  (On-line sales from this auction went to Canada and Mexico.)

The Land: How does your Steffes team energize for these auctions? You’ve got to be quick, nimble and always reading your audience.

Huhn: I’m farm-reared. This business is all about helping people. I can relate to the farm audience today.  When I’m behind the microphone calling a sale, they know that I know what I’m talking about. They trust what we say and that’s the key. We have locations in Litchfield, Fargo, Sioux Falls and Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. At each, we have anywhere from two to five auctioneers.

The Land: As you introduce the next item, I hear you toss out your 'asking bid.' This big Cat Challenger, what might you start at?

Huhn: That unit, I’ll throw it out at $50,000 and let it go from there. (Actual selling price: $104,000.  Huhn predicted it would likely be the highest selling tractor — it was!).