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Going to auctions is a part of growing up in farming and ranching families. (Katy Kassian/Special to Agweek)

Farm auctions aren't all bad

It occurred to me today, as I watched a youngster playing in the dirt with his farm toys, that farm auctions are not signs of who may or may not be going under, harbingers of bad news or even a prediction of where we're headed. Auctions are signs of community, continuity and hope.

I also realized that nearly everyone there had been coming to auctions almost since they could walk. The old men were reliving their younger years, telling tales about how it used to be and giving the youngsters — and me, too — a living history lesson.

If you just ask any one of these fellas a question, they will tell you anything you want to know. I now know all about single bottom plows, that you MUST keep your foot on that thingy watcher on an old dump rake ("Or else!"), how to start a stubborn Fordson, and some very creative ways of "making do."

Middle-of-the-packers — not too big, not too small — were out looking for a deal on an extra piece of equipment. Something that might make that one task easier, or just because they always wanted one and an auction may be the only way to afford one.

Others were looking to help their kids get a foothold in farming or ranching. And some just came for the social outlet.

Then there were the kids. There was a young man, maybe 15 or so, who was just as comfortable shooting the breeze with an old guy as he was with his friends. These kids grow up absorbing the lingo, the sense of community and pride of farmers and ranchers. They are our future.

And NOBODY comes to an auction to gloat. Ever. The sense of community is astounding. It doesn't matter if they know each other or not — "we're all in this together" is the prevailing attitude. People walk around sharing thermoses of coffee, stories and leads on who may have a pasture or quarter of land to let. They share memories, swap stories and helpful tips, and laugh together. And, occasionally, shed a tear or two.

Farming and ranching are a way of life. As one retires or downsizes, another steps in to take their place. These auctions are a sure sign that it continues. The types and ages of equipment and doodads offered up are testaments that stand the test of time.

Remember, when you're at the coffee shop and folks are talking about the drought and how it affects farmers, who's selling off cattle, who's throwing in the towel or retiring — auctions are really about continuing a way of life and making it possible for someone else to live the dream.

Each season farmers and ranchers HOPE it will be a good year. When we say "a good year," we are hoping for many things. Hoping for good prices from critters and crops, hoping for a good deal. Hoping that when our own auction time comes, someone will benefit from our years of accumulation. Hoping to pass down our way of life and traditions to our children and their children.