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Auctions and markets are looking at their options to move forward amid the COVID-19 pandemic, trying to keep paths open for farmers who need to buy or sell livestock, farm equipment or other essentials for them to continue their operations.

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads throughout the U.S., auction services are evaluating how to best respond and proceed.

While many businesses are shutting their doors for the time being or encouraging remote work, farmers can have little choice but to continue on largely as usual. For those farmers, access to auctions and markets, whether buying or selling, can be essential.

However, those farm and livestock auctions have the potential to exceed recommendations and mandates on local, state and federal levels as to how many people can or should gather together amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

By Monday, March 16, George Auction Service in Evansville had started received calls inquiring if their scheduled auctions would go on as planned, said Kale George. Some sellers were calling to ask as well.

At that point, live auctions, including one scheduled for the next day, were to go on as planned, George said.

A few days later, George Auction Service had postponed all upcoming auctions but was trying to proceed with already scheduled ones in an online only format.

With the new mandates and restrictions, “it certainly seems like the only way to go,” George said.

Equity Cooperative, which oversees several market locations largely in Wisconsin, issued a statement that outlines restrictions being placed on their markets as they attempt to comply with governmental directives and orders.

As of March 17, Equity Cooperative has limited entrance to active buyers and employees, banning spectators. They have also closed the barn and office to sellers.

The statement signed by Equity Cooperative President and CEO Curt Larson noted, “We realize these are major inconveniences to producers, however, these steps must be taken to keep the number of people at the market to an absolute minimum in order for us to continue operations.”

Recommendations on group gathering sizes continue to grow even smaller, but stopping auctions could have detrimental consequences for farmers depending on them taking place.

In a news release, the national Livestock Marketing Association wrote that “livestock auction markets are essential to maintaining infrastructure and food supply as well as access to capital for the thousands of farmers and ranchers who depend on livestock auction markets to sell their livestock.”

That sentiment can go beyond just livestock auctions and markets to any farm auction, whether it’s cattle, equipment or any other farm supply necessity, that farmers are relying on to make it possible for them to keep working.

“We need to make it work for them,” George said.

In a news release on the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s response to COVID-19, WFBF President Joe Bragger said, “Farmers can’t just stop doing business because of the coronavirus.

“We are pleased that for right now many businesses that farmers work with are taking precautions but not stopping business completely. Our farmers need access to supplies and their markets.”

Online auctioning was already available for some auctions, George said, and before George Auction Service made the decision to “eliminate face to face interaction for as long as needed,” he expected higher amounts of online bidding as opposed to live when both were options due to the outbreak.

Any who continue to attend live auctions can follow established precautionary guidelines, including but not limited to thorough hand washing and sanitizing, avoiding touching the face and practicing social distancing.

LMA has also issued a list of strategies markets who continue to operate as allowed can take in light of the spread of the disease. Those can be found at lmanews.com under their “COVID-19” tab.

LMA advised that due to the varied crowd size limits enacted by different areas and states, they were working with member livestock markets on a “case-by-case basis to evaluate all parameters and impacts on their sales and strongly suggests markets develop contingency plans accordingly.”

While the pandemic is likely to have far-reaching economic consequences, many farmers affected by the difficult ag economy know what it’s like to continue to have to buy and sell during hard times anyway, George said.

Farmers, who are now getting ready for spring, can likely be expected to continue to “go out and do whatever they need to do” for their business, George said.