By Alan J. Keays, VTDigger
IRA — The 108 head of cattle are gone. So are the tractors, balers and even the manure spreader.
They all went to the highest bidders at an auction Saturday, July 8, at Milky Way Farm in Ira after a creditor of the financially struggling Rutland County dairy operation called in a $152,000 loan.
Mary Saceric-Clark and her son, Robbie Clark Jr., had been trying for years to stave off the sale.
But by late Saturday morning and into the afternoon, the livestock and equipment that made up the farm were split up, heading in separate directions to different homes.
Tom Hosking of Hosking Sales LLC, of New Berlin, N.Y., served as the auctioneer for the event that attracted well over 200 people.
Hosking told the crowd, mostly farmers, that the goal was to raise as much as possible so the Clarks could pay off that $152,000 loan.
He also said the equipment and cattle were in good shape, and in many cases the machinery was “just like new,” so plenty of bargains would be in the offing.
At one point, as two bidders went back and forth driving up the price of one item, Hosking reminded them of the competitiveness of an auction, adding, “There are no friends at an auction.”
Exactly how much the sale raised was not immediately available. However, by rough calculations, it took in enough to cover the debt.
The equipment was sold outside, under a steady rain, late Saturday morning. By early afternoon, the bidding had moved under the cover of a barn for the cattle.
The heaviest of the equipment brought in the biggest dollars.
A John Deere tractor, estimated brand new at more than $130,000, sold for over $40,000. A couple of smaller tractors fetched more than $10,000 each. Other machinery, including a baler, hay wrapper and manure spreader, also brought in thousands.
The milking cows sold for more than $1,000 apiece, most around $1,250. Calves brought about $250 each.
As he pushed to raise bids throughout the day, Hosking told potential buyers more than once, “Tomorrow you’re going to kick yourself for letting it go this cheap.”
Among those in the crowd was Ray Duquette Sr., president of the Rutland County Farm Bureau.
He said that although he didn’t have all the details about the financial issues that led to the auction, he did know how difficult it is for farmers to keep up with loan payments, given the many variables they face, from milk prices to the weather.
“I’ll tell you, it’s not hard to do in this business,” he said of getting overextended financially.
The auction Saturday followed years of proceedings in bankruptcy court for the Clarks. Over time, the Clarks said, due to illness, the death of Saceric-Clark’s husband, and declining milk prices, the farm missed payments and failed to file reports when due.
That bankruptcy process, which ended in February after the Clarks failed to meet certain benchmarks, cleared the way for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency to call in its $152,000 loan.
To pay that debt, the cattle, machinery and equipment were put up for auction. The Clarks, even up until the auctioneer welcomed the crowd Saturday morning, had been hoping for a miracle to hold off the bidding process.
That never arrived.
The Clarks, while losing the livestock and equipment Saturday, still have the more than 100 acres of farmland that is home to the dairy barn and the white colonial house where the Clarks live.
However, in addition to the FSA calling in its loan, People’s United Bank filed in federal court recently seeking to foreclose on the property. The bank says it is owed more than $300,000, not including other expenses and back taxes. That case remains pending.
It was 1984 when Robert Clark Sr. bought the land for Milky Way Farm. When his son, Robbie Jr., turned 18, he joined his father in running the business. Together the father and son worked the farm for a decade until Clark Sr. died of cancer at age 69 last year.
His son, now 31, has worked the farm alone since his father’s passing.
Saceric-Clark did not watch the auction but did help serve refreshments to the crowd. She said Saturday outside her home that she was too broken up to comment.
Before the auction Saturday, as would-be bidders poked around the equipment and walked through the dairy barn inspecting the cows, Robbie Clark was nowhere to be found.
Hosking, as he performed the auction, did offer a few disclaimers to those who would be bidding, including that all items were being sold “as is,” including the cows.
“Nothing is to be loaded onto a truck until it’s settled, and that means paid for,” he said, later adding, “We’re trying to collect as much as we can for Robbie.”
Photo by Alan J. Keays, VTDigger
Potential bidders gather around as Tom Hosking, of Hosking Sales LLC, center, auctions equipment Saturday at Milky Way Farm in Ira.