Advertising hype usually sets off my B.S. meter. When someone tells me a sale will be the "Absolute Auction of the Decade," I'm naturally skeptical.
Wieman Auction of Marion is making this claim straight-faced about the Stip Brothers estate auction Tuesday right here in Lake County. They may not be exaggerating. This auction is a "complete dispersal" of the accumulated farm wealth of Milo, Art, and Don Stip. The auction bill takes up nearly a full page of the Madison Daily Leader (and remember, MDL pages are still the good full size pages, not those wimpy skinny pages you get from that Sioux Falls paper). The Stip brothers had no wives or kids to spend their money on, so they bought equipment. Lots and lots of equipment, more than they could use themselves. Tractors, skidloaders, payloaders, excavators, semis, trucks, a Hummer (2006 H2, 12K+ miles, current bid $8750)... almost all with low hours or low miles. On auction day, the farm headquarters six miles south of town, 23989 454th Avenue, will look more like an implement dealership.
There's already all sorts of out-of-state interest and online buzz about the auction. I won't even begin to calculate how much all that equipment would sell for. But look ahead two weeks to the land sale, December at the Davison County Fairgrounds just west of Mitchell. 3356.37 acres of "mostly all tillable land" across six counties with some of the highest land values in South Dakota. At the rate for cropland calculated by SDSU in June 2009, the land could sell for over $10 million.
No word on the auction bill as to whether the land for sale includes the ditches Stips illegally filled. Buyer beware... and check with the courthouse!
Now just a wild thought: Imagine how many small farms we could equip with this enormous stock of machinery accumulated by just three old codgers. Imagine if we could take the 21 quarters of the Stip estate and turn it into 21 farms, where 21 families could make a living off the land. Sure, big land barons contribute to the local economy, but 21 new independent farm families would contribute even more, each building good homes, each sending kids to school, each buying groceries and gas in town, each bringing their own human capital to community activities and volunteer organizations.
Imagine if there were a visionary developer who could scoop up just the quarters here in Lake County and a portion of the equipment, divide the tracts, and market the land to folks eager to make a living in intensive human-scale farming. All those new families... all those kids bringing state money to the school district....
I don't need a tractor, but I'll probably drop by the Stip auction Tuesday to wonder at three men's riches. But I'll also wonder how much richer Lake County would be with men and women for each of those machines... or even every dozen of those machines.
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