Why a Produce Auction?
by Menno K Shirk

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To bring out the reasons for a produce auction, I will have to start at the beginning of our produce venture here in Missouri.

Sixteen and a half years ago I got a job, away from the farm, at a lumber kiln, to help with my huge burdens of debts. I did not like to be away from my family so much. My dear wife had her hands full with her daily tasks and three preschoolers under her feet, while she bore the stress and worry of being alone should something happen in the hog barn or other worrisome things. Do not get the impression that when I am at home all those stresses and worries are cured, but that it is a more comfortable and relaxing feeling in spirit.

After about seven months of this uncomfortable arrangement, I quit my job with the intention of going into produce farming.

When spring came around we got our fields ready and planted the way we would plant a garden, one shot and done. We did not know very much about raising produce. We did not even know what to plant. We just went by seed catalogs and planted. There were very few people raising produce to sell in this part of the country, so most of the advice we got were negative. One person made the remark that the climate we are in will not work for such a venture. I could not figure this out, because we were raising bountiful harvests from the garden.

In the height of that first year in produce, our local town of Versailles decided to promote a Farmers' Market. We read about this in their local, newspaper. A telephone number was included in the article. After thinking it out a bit I dialed the number. The person answering the telephone practically begged us to come. So that Saturday, me and my brother Alvin, gathered our produce together and headed for Versailles. When we got there the buyers were waiting. We were the only vendors. If it would not have been for us the Versailles Farmers' Market would have been a flop. We sold out about as fast as we could unload.

At that time we felt we really had something going, but we still had to spend too much time marketing our produce for the small amount of profit we had.

In the late '80's several of us went together to form what was called Countryside Growers. We raised peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers on larger scales. These were shipped mostly to some Kansas City brokers. We really felt we are getting something going now, however after a few years our profit margins still had much to be desired and we also felt that the brokers were just taking advantage of us. We found out later the only reason they bought from a little outfit like us, was to get a cheaper product than what they could buy from the commercial markets.

Then came the Flood of '93'. In many areas disaster struck from prevailing rains and severe flooding causing many bleak and gloomy outlooks, but actually for us, it came as a blessing in disguise. We had quit the packing business this year and were selling to local markets and also the Kansas City Market. Since produce was so scarce the buyers tried to grab it up, so we decided to convert our little packinghouse to a produce auction and let those buyers bid on the produce.

In 1991, we built our present day auction building, and now as we look back over those venturesome produce years, it is like traveling a wild and rugged path that finally comes to a green pasture. My only regret is that I wish we would have had a produce auction 13 years sooner. Then, I think, my burden of debt would have started to disappear a lot quicker.

We still hear remarks that it does not pay to raise produce to sell at the produce auction, however about the only ones that say such remarks are those that use the grandmother method or one shot and done planting, and get their produce to the auction when the floor is overcrowded and the prices are cheap, or they are such that have produce as a secondary crop and end up selling mostly cull produce.

Raising produce is a business. Unlike other businesses, government regulations still allow us to have our children to help along at a young age, making it the ideal in raising a family, both in assistance to the farm debt and education.

Raising produce for the auction also gives us time to take better care of the crops at home instead of going to Farmers' Markets, and waiting on customers. Furthermore, we have found since we have a produce auction that our products are actually worth more on the wholesale level, than what we used to get for it retail.

The produce auction is also convenient for the buyer to come and pick his product at the going price. He has a choice of many different grades and variety. There is no dickering on price.

A devoted grower in the auction is one that can keep the same smile when prices rocket sky high and when they plummet to rock bottom levels. He knows it will all average out.

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