With calving season upon us, many ranchers need to move and sell cattle. A lot of producers are buying and selling bulls right now and some are still trying to market 2019’s calf crop. Meanwhile some farmers and ranchers are planning auction sales for land or equipment.
As the fear over COVID-19 has spread and almost every event in the country has been cancelled, these same producers are worried that livestock markets and auctions will come to a halt. Fortunately though, our state governments are working to keep agricultural commerce moving.
“Agriculture doesn’t stop; the process of producing food and feed is a year-round job,” North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said. “Agriculture provides critical and essential functions for all Americans. We recognize this and understand that livestock markets and ag auction sales still need to happen.
In Montana, the Board of Livestock held a conference call to alleviate some of the livestock industry’s concerns. Department of Livestock Executive Officer Mike Honeycutt says that currently they are operating at normal capacity. There are accommodations being made for employees affected by school closures or those employees that may be of a higher risk category.
In the last week, the Department has been working with the Governor’s office on the Continuity Plan for the agency to continue to conduct business and address the recent developments. They have developed in the plan a number of “Priority 1 Functions,” which include:
- Maintaining livestock markets,
- Continuing diagnostic lab tests,
- Animal health import inspections, and
- Inspections of meat and eggs
The Department will also be limiting travel and anticipate cancelation of in-person meetings, some of which will be changing to conference calls.
In North Dakota, Ag Commissioner Goehring says, “There are currently over 100 ag auction sales scheduled for the next two months. We understand the need but ask that certain precautions are taken to mitigate the risk.”
The CDC recommends considering a number of factors when determining whether to postpone or cancel a mass gathering, including:
- The overall number of attendees
- The number of people attending who are at a greater risk of more serious illness
- The density of attendees within a confined area
- The potential economic impact to participants, attendees, staff, and the larger community
- The level of transmission in your local community and the level of transmission in the areas from which your attendees will travel
Taking these factors into consideration, livestock auction markets and ag auctions can take certain precautions to limit contact between people. Many auction companies and livestock markets are limiting attendance to only bidders and buyers. Where possible, they will offer online bidding and viewing of the sale. People are encouraged to limit contact and maintain distance between those attending auctions.
“A positive is that most ag auction sales happen outside, and many livestock auction markets offer an option to view the sale remotely. With a few adjustments, auctions can continue with the essential role they play in agriculture,” Goehring said. “We strongly urge those not feeling well, non-essential and at-risk people to avoid auctions. If your attendance is essential, respect social distancing and practice good hygiene.”
There have only been a handful of rescheduled auctions around the region. Almost every regularly scheduled auction market and upcoming bull sale is still happening.
In a Facebook post, Billings Livestock and Public Auction Yards said they plan on continuing to have sales but have asked people to minimize the time they spend at the market and in the sale arena. Sales are also available to view or bid through online avenues. Almost every auction market has responded in the same way, recognizing that commerce must continue.
There is a lot of uncertainty for the ag industry right now, but it’s important for us to keep our chins up and stay positive. We’ve seen tough times in agriculture before and certainly will again. By staying calm and helping others when they need it, we’ll get through this.
North Dakota Department of Agriculture / Montana Stockgrowers / Northern Ag Network