If profit were the bottom line, bids might have been a disappointment at Saturday’s Bartholomew County 4-H Livestock Sale.
Although a mid-summer slump is expected in beef and pork prices, local beef producer Nathan Downey said prices have dropped considerably more than usual this month. With livestock futures nearing new lows, reasons given include tariffs on U.S. pork and beef exports in China and Mexico.
But on the last day of the 61st annual Bartholomew County 4-H Fair, generosity — as has been the case for several years — outweighs profits.
While the total auction proceeds of $257,420 were about 5 percent lower than last year’s $271,671, the amount was not out of line with previous fair auctions.
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When Brad Paetzel of Hope saw the 1,343-pound Chianina beef steer he purchased from a friend in New Castle sell for $5,700, more than four times its market value, the recent Hauser High School graduate was thrilled.
The son of Jeff and Adora Paetzel described the experience of winning the Grand Champion Beef Steer honors for two consecutive years as “mind-blowing.”
Grace Burbrink of Columbus beamed after her 269-pound Grand Champion barrow sold for $1,900, more than 16 times the animal’s value.
Although free market advocates might find it a bit confusing, the economics at the 4-H Livestock Sale make sense when the larger picture is considered.
The sale is where future farmers get their introduction to the business of agriculture. Since it’s hard for many young exhibitors to let go of the animals they’ve raised for several months, many in the community strive to make their rewards lucrative.
Nearly all of the 4-H youth exhibiting livestock receive twice as much as their animal is worth on the open market.
Reasons they bid
For some buyers involved in agribusiness, purchases are made as a way to extend a form of reciprocity or goodwill to farm families they do business with on a regular basis.
But a closer look turns up other bidders such as Hope dentist Dr. John Harker, who says he feels compelled to support the young exhibitors after watching all of his children and grandchildren go through the 4-H program.
“If these kids got paid per hour for the actual time they spend with their animals, they’d make about 25 cents an hour,” Harker said.
As in past years, other bidders who showed up Saturday identified themselves as former 4-H members who personally know the long hours and hard work it takes to care for livestock.
They understand that when a young person puts in up to a year of sweat equity, they are receiving an invaluable lesson in responsibility, discipline and teamwork that will serve not only themselves, but their community in future years, Paetzel said.
Although some bidders might mention tax breaks they will receive from a 4-H livestock purchase, others such as Harker admit those deductions really don’t amount to much at tax time.
And when auctioneer Mike Mensendiek explained over the public address system that buyers only have to pay the difference between market value and sale price if they only want to make a donation and go home without anything to show for their money, that’s when it became clear.
Many of the buyers were there because they have good hearts.
Among the 10-year members who ended their days in 4-H Saturday was Emma Wischmeier, the 2017 Supreme Showman in the Beef, Sheep, Swine and Dairy divisions.
But instead of competing in 2018, the daughter of Louis and Holly Wischmeier spent this fair wearing a tiara and handing out ribbons as a member of the 4-H Fair Queen’s court.
What made this fair special was finally having time to socialize with other 4-H members and fair patrons, instead of worrying about her own animals, Wischmeier said.
And what did she learn from the experience?
“It’s not just people in agribusiness,” Wischmeier said. “It’s the whole community that does a really great job in supporting the youth in 4-H.”
The torch of excellence was passed on from Wischmeier to Allana Whiteside of Columbus, who was named the 2018 4-H Supreme Showman.
After eight years of exhibiting pigs and sheep, the 16-year-old daughter of Ben and Jenny Whiteside said she had never shown a cow or goat prior to the Friday night competition.
“That section went pretty good,” said Whiteside, who will be a junior at Columbus East High School this fall. “It’s encouraged me to consider showing a beef cow next year. That should be pretty exciting.”
As Paetzel reflected back on his 10 years in 4-H, he recalled how shaky he was when he first stepped into an arena with a cow to be judged in a fair livestock show.
“I was terrified my first year,” Paetzel said. “I either came in second to last or last in my class. And I’m pretty sure my heifer got away from me. It’s just crazy how far I’ve come.”
For that reason, Paetzel — who will begin studying agricultural sales at Purdue University starting next month — said he always tries to encourage the youngest livestock competitors each year, so they won’t give up and continue working at self-improvement.
It’s not only livestock that attracts bids during the auction. There was also a five-gallon bucket of homemade ice cream made by the Bartholomew County Young Farmers that brought in $2,500 this year from Landmark Enterprises/Landmark Farms of Columbus.
The Young Farmers organization, whose members created the vanilla-flavored dessert, will match Landmark’s $2,500 contribution, bringing a total of $5,000 to fund 4-H college scholarships in memory of the late Vicki Schwartzkopf.
This was also a landmark year for veteran livestock auctioneer B. Parker Newsom Jr., who received a big hand when he stepped forward for his 50th consecutive year at the microphone. The co-founder of Boewe-Newsom Auctioneers sold off the first four animals Saturday before turning duties over to Mensendiek.
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Top Bartholomew County 4-H Livestock Auction sale prices (in order of earnings)
Grand Champion Beef Steer: Brad Paetzel – 1,343 pounds; $1,356 market value; $5,700 sale price; Buyer: Tallman Equipment Co., Columbus.
Grand Champion Dairy Steer: Drew Schiefer – 1,591 pounds; $1,273 market value; $2,400 sale price; Buyer: Columbus Industrial Electric, Inc.
Bartholomew County Young Farmers Ice Cream: No market value; $2,500 sale price; Buyer: Landmark Enterprises LLC / Landmark Farms, Columbus.
Grand Champion Barrow: Grace Burbrink – 269 pounds; $118.36 market value; $1,900 sale price; Buyer: Southern Indiana OBGYN, Columbus.
Grand Champion Market Lamb: Eliza Whiteside – 136 pounds; $184 market value; $1,100 sale price; Buyer: Grammer Industries, Columbus.
Basket of dairy-related food items: Josie Burbrink – No market value; $1,000 sale price; Buyer: Tom Reuter Crop Insurance, LLC, Fairland.
Grand Champion Rabbit Meat Pen: Brandon Stewart – No market value; $500 sale price; Buyer: Columbus Industrial Electric, Inc.
Grand Champion Poultry Meat Pen: Charles Claycamp – No market value; $500 sale price; Buyer: Innovative Castings Technologies, Inc., Franklin.
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Total amount raised: $257,420
Total market value: $45,000
Total premium: $212,420
Total number of animals sold: 265
Top Buyers: Tallman Equipment, Columbus; Innovative Castings Technology, Franklin; Trico Farm Supply, Inc., Elizabethtown; Columbus Silgas; Friends of 4-H, Columbus; Grammer Industries, Columbus; Reuter Crop Insurance LLC, Fairland.