Gila County Fair Board members met frequently over the summer months, grappling with the challenge of how to run autumn’s annual livestock auction -- a hallmark event of the county fair -- safely, in this year of Covid-19 precautions, and with the fair itself cancelled. They voted to take the auction online, in part after scrutinizing the logistics and success of the Northern Arizona Junior Livestock Association’s (NAJLA) auction.
Similar to recent years and also similar to the 2019 live auction here in Globe, the support comes from the FFA and 4-H kids’ family, friends, local businesses and the community. Beefing-up the total was another $35,000 in add-ons: cash gifts for the kids, generously donated by buyers and community members to support the 4-H and FFA youth. And would you believe they even had a buyer joining online from Italy?
There were many unknown factors when NAJLA decided to go virtual as this was a new endeavor for everyone. However, with the outpouring support, the board, buyers, and exhibitors were very pleased with the outcome. The buyers made sure every exhibitor was taken care of in order to be able to participate next year. “Support from our buyers was the key to making this work for the kids - it takes supportive, loyal buyers,” said Auction Association President Sherri Brendel. “For example, one of our buyers happened to be in Italy and was able to participate. So, one piece of advice I have for Gila County in planning your first virtual livestock auction: make every effort you can to engage your network of buyers before the auction, and invite new first-time buyers to register.”
“We discovered that quite a few of our buyers were people who have never participated in the County Fair Auction before. Nor would they, if they had not been able to log in and do the bidding from the comfort of their home,” said Kristi Bennett, Northern Arizona Junior Livestock Association board member. “While we look forward to an in-person auction next year, all of the feedback we have received has been positive and reassuring that we made the right decision for our exhibitors.”
Bidders & Buyers Team Up
“We had buyers who represented a group, one registered as “A Group of Teachers” with no freezer space nor the means to buy a full animal, but together their group was able to purchase one pig, which they will divide, so they can all taste how truly amazing this fresh pork is while supporting local kids in this program. We watched them as they got excited with anticipation during the bidding process, they were so nervous that they would get outbid, it was great to have them join in on the fun. Taking a risk on running our auction Virtually made this happen, in the past our teachers have not traveled to Flagstaff together to do such a thing.
“We noticed Alumni buyers from Page, who participated for the first time in years. They used to buy in the past, to support 4-H, years ago. Being able to watch and bid virtually, getting involved again, it was so rewarding to see them successfully purchase animals and join us.
The kids all seemed pleased with the final prices, they could log in and check out how they were doing - which made it suspenseful. It also gave them time to make some phone calls and talk to their buyers when they had questions about processing etc.
Uncharted Territory, Surprise Success
Joshua Farella, with University of Arizona’s Coconino County Cooperative Extension, oversees 4-H programs up north, and echoed the auction board’s surprise and pleasure with success of the auction.
“Naturally, there was a lot of concern - a virtual auction was uncharted territory for us, and we have passionate parents who want the best for their 4-H’rs. Thanks to a lot of hard work by our youth and adult volunteers with the Northern Arizona Junior Livestock Association, our virtual auction had 118 lots and brought in $203,000, which is just about perfectly on par with our per capita numbers from last year. NAJLA did a great job bringing in buyers, and working with the virtual platform to make everything go smoothly. We also noticed that our buyers stuck around longer than our traditional in-person auctions - they really wanted to make sure that all of the youth got taken care of. The virtual event also proved to be more fun than we expected - ours went for three days, so it gave folks plenty time to participate, and we heard of quite a few auction party get-togethers, even one group who hosted a bidders party on Lake Powell!