Pieper has nearly 40 years in the auction business

Melvin Pieper, of Gary, S.D., started working in the auction business in his early 20s and launched his own business, Pieper Auctions in Gary, S.D. in the early 1980s.
“I always kind of enjoyed going to auctions regularly,” said Pieper, who is now 64.
Pieper recalled a Sunday afternoon many years ago when he was out working with his cows and saw someone stopped on the road, looking at his pasture. He discovered it was the owner of the local sale barn, South Dakota Livestock Sales in Watertown, and he was out looking for cattle for the sale barn.
The two chatted and the man ended up asking Pieper if he wanted to work for him at the sale barn. That was Pieper’s start in the business. He ended up working for South Dakota Livestock Sales for about 15 years, he said. He was still working for them when he launched his own business, doing mostly farm and land sales. Eventually, he became too busy with his own farming and auction business and left South Dakota Livestock Sales.
“It got bigger faster than I thought it would,”Pieper said of this auction business.
During his nearly four decades in the auction business, Pieper has seen many changes. Among them is the way clerking is done at the auctions. When he started in the business, the clerks used to write down everyone’s name and address. Then they switched to a number system and then about seven years ago the clerks started scanning licenses to get all the information they need.
A big improvement for Pieper came in the form of an auction topper on his pickup. Pieper described himself as “kind of short” and said he used to stand on the equipment so everyone could see him. Then he purchased an auction topper that made him more visible and also sheltered him from the cold and wind on blustery days.
The equipment he sells has also changed. Today’s equipment is far bigger and has far more horse power than the equipment he sold years ago.
Another change is who serves lunch during the auctions. Pieper said churches used to provide the lunches, but today the meal is often provided by a local nonprofit or the family holding the auction.
“I believe we’ve got to have lunch with the farm sales,” Pieper said. “I think people feel a little more comfortable with something in their hands.”
He said food is also important because farm sales can last several hours and people often come from far away.
Like other auctioneers, Pieper offers online auction services, something that wasn’t an option when he started out.
“I’ve been doing that for probably five or six years,” he said.
Pieper said he usually does auctions in-person and online simultaneously, but that he lets the customer choose how they want to do it. He said the online and in-person combination has been particularly common this year due to the pandemic.
He said he’s encountered things through online auctions that he’d never encountered at in-person autions. For example, someone once told him they purchased something from one of his auctions using their phone while walking through a park in another state. On two other occasions, he said, he had a buyer from another state and had to find an interpreter to help with the sale because the buyer spoke another language.
“With the internet, you’re all over,” Pieper said.
The company does about 40 to 50 sales a year in recent years, although Pieper noted that this year has been a bit slower due to the pandemic. Pieper said that while the company might have fewer auctions this year, the sales they’ve had have gone well.
Pieper Auctions does most of its auctions in the South Dakota and Minnesota counties of Deuel, Codington, Grant, Hamlin, Brookings, Clark, Yellow Medicine, Lincoln, Lac qui Parle, Big Stone and Yellow Medicine.
Pieper Auctions has three other auctioneers in addition to Pieper, including his son Eli, who started working with him about three years ago, Cory Borg and Dan Farmer. Pieper’s wife Tawne, his daughter Elle, and Matt Bear also work for the company as clerks.
Pieper said the community has been good to him over the years. People keep calling and he keeps selling. That’s likely to be the case for Pieper Auctions for years to come with his son Eli having joined the business and his daughter Elle considering going to auction school.

Koob goes border-to-border on cross-state bike trek

Paul Koob used to ride his bike from his home in Lakefield to work at AGCO in Jackson.
Last month, he rode his bike across the state of Minnesota — the long way.
Koob, a material handler for AGCO Jackson Operations, said he got the idea to ride from the Welcome to Minnesota sign south of Bigelow to the Canadian border just north of International Falls while riding his bike from Lakefield to Jackson.
“This riding bike across the state came to me back in the ’90s when I used to ride my bike back and forth from Lakefield to Jackson for my job at what was then Ag-Chem,” Koob said. “I still work over in Jackson, but I’ve lived in Worthington for years, so it’s a little bit far to ride my bike to AGCO.”
Koob started his cross-state ride July 11. Five-plus days and 450 miles later, he reached the Canadian border.
Koob rode his GT road bike, but threw his Cannondale in the pilot car driven alongside him by his wife, Sue, as a backup. His initial destination that first day was Morton.
“And that’s where I ran into a terrible rainstorm, about three miles from there,” Koob said. “At that point, I jumped into the car with my wife.”
After the rain passed, he mounted up again and rode into Morton.
“My second day was the toughest of my entire bike ride,” Koob said. “I made it to Cold Spring, which is about 82 miles, but the route was very hilly and it was very hot that day.”
On the third day of his bike trip, Koob headed for Brainerd. On the fourth day, he rode to Grand Rapids.
“On the ride from Grand Rapids to my next stop at Big Lake, I traveled through the Chippewa National Forest where I did get a chance to see a black bear,” Koob said. “That was pretty exciting. Then I finished up my last 38 miles into International Falls by noon on Thursday, July 16.”
On that last leg of his trip, Sue Koob stopped about 10 miles outside of International Falls at a gas station.
“In talking with the manager about our trip, the manager said, ‘We don’t get stories like this up here,’ and insisted that we talk to the newspaper in International Falls,” Koob said. “And that is how they got our story.”
Koob said he took county roads most of the way on his long bike trek, adding the farther he got north and past Grand Rapid, the fewer road options there were — not to mention cars and people.
In addition to his cross-state ride, Koob has also participated in 40 marathons — and all of this while suffering from cerebral palsy.
“It is a condition that you are born with, so as far as that goes, I don’t know any other way of living,” he said. “I just like the sense of adventure biking and this bike trip gave me that.”
Next on his to-do list?
“I am getting ready to ride across the state from west to east in a couple of weeks,” he said.
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Long involved in agriculture, Honnette now involved in MARL program

Chelsea Honnette has lived in Jackson for 16 years with her family. In that time, she’s managed a family farm with her husband, worked with cutting-edge agricultural technology at AGCO Jackson Operations and served the community in a myriad of ways through various community institutions.
“I moved to Jackson in December 2004,” Honnette said. “My husband is originally from Jackson and he grew up here.”
Honnette and her husband, Ryan, came to manage the family farm owned by Ryan’s parents.
“When we moved here, we had the opportunity to get involved in farm production with his family,” Honnette said.
Honnette has been at AGCO Jackson for almost seven years and has been involved in agriculture since 2014.
Her favorite part of agriculture is planting and watching the crops grow.
“Everything starts fresh every year and it’s a whole new opportunity every year to see your harvest come to fruition,” Honnette said. “My favorite part of the crop cycle is planting and as the crops are maturing and popping through the ground, watching the rows and seeing everything come together.”
Honnette was recently selected to participate in Class XI of the Minnesota Agriculture and Rural Leadership program.
For Honnette, it’s the realization of a long-held ambition.
“MARL has been something that I’ve been looking to do for almost 10 years,” Honnette said. “I’ve kept up with who’s in each class and seeing the programming they had to offer all along. A lot of MARL is focused on learning not only about the areas of agriculture you’re accustomed to, but also all of the agriculture production opportunities that occur in the state of Minnesota.”
She’s most excited about the leadership development aspects of MARL, which she will use to benefit the community.
“I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer on a wide variety of committees and projects within Jackson and I’m excited to be able to learn another set of tools as it relates to leadership with other people,” Honnette said. “I want to take what I’ve learned and bring that back to my family, to my volunteerism and to my employer, as well.”
As a volunteer, Honnette serves on the board of directors of the Jackson Area Chamber of Commerce, the church council of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church and the Tri for Health board. She’s also helped work to bring the splash pad to Jackson.
Honnette enjoys spending time with family and friends. Because she farms with her husband, they’re able to spend a lot of time together on the job. She loves volunteering and outdoor activity as well.
“We find fun ways to spend time together, whether it’s helping him in the shop with something or riding along and just enjoying checking the crops and things like that,” Honnette said. “I enjoy volunteering and being outside and active.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic has brought challenges for her family, Honnette said she feels blessed to have the time with her family and added the crop season looks good this year.
“We’re spending time together as a family,” Honnette said. “We’ll never get this opportunity again to just buckle down and focus just on us.”
Honnette’s message for the community and especially for young people is to keep pursuing their ambitions and dreams, even and especially through adversity.
“Make sure if you identify an opportunity that you want to pursue at some point, you stay focused and keep it at the forefront of all the things that you do,” Honnette said. “MARL is that for me; it’s one of those things that I’ve watched go over time and I feel very honored to be part of Class XI.”

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On the Auction Block with Randy Buntjer

Randy Buntjer attended his first livestock auction with his father, Don, at the age of 5 or 6. His dad had a few cattle and they would often go to the local sale barn in Worthington on Friday nights.
“I used to go with my dad to a lot of livestock auctions,” said the owner of Randy Buntjer Auction and Realty, LLC, located near Ellsworth. “I just enjoyed doing that with my dad and that’s how I got into auctioneering.”
By 10 or 12 Buntjer knew that’s what he wanted to do. He conducted his first auction — a benefit auction for the local FFA Chapter — at the age of 15.
Buntjer said it was the people that attracted him to the auctioneering business. He enjoys getting to know different people and trying to get them “top dollar” on the day of their auction.
“I love working with people,” Buntjer said.
In 1987 he attended the Mason City College of Auctioneering in Mason City, Iowa. After that he started a machinery consignment lot on his parents’ farm south of Worthington.
“That’s kind of how I got my start,” Buntjer said.
The consignment lot, which he still operates, was a way for him to get his name out. From that start, he has continued to expand his business over the years.
In 2001 he became a licensed real estate appraiser. In 2010 he obtained a real estate license and in 2015 he became a licensed real estate broker.
“It’s just kind of something else to do to fill the time between auctions,” he said.
He said the businesses all tie together in a way, allowing him to meet people as clients for one aspect of his business and gain experience with them that might bring them back to work with him in another aspect.
Today Buntjer does auctions primarily in Nobles, Rock, Murray and Jackson counties and real estate and appraisals primarily in Nobles, Rock, Pipestone, Murray, Jackson and Cottonwood counties. He typically does about 20 auctions a year. He said the appraisals take him farther out because there are not many appraisers around. Buntjer specializes in appraisals of machinery and agricultural land.
Buntjer said the most significant change to the industry since he started is the emergence of online auctions. Buntjer said he took his auction business online about three years ago and can conduct auctions in-person and simulcast them online at the same time. He said the online option greatly expands the reach of the auction.
“You’ve got the whole world watching and bidding on it,” Buntjer said.
Through his online presence he has sold equipment to people in other states and as far away as New Zealand.
Buntjer is also a sales representative for the online auction site
Buntjer’s business office is located at the family acreage northwest of Ellsworth. His wife, Connie, is the auction clerk for the business and at one time or another all four of their children have worked for him.
“It’s kind of a family business,” Buntjer said.
He also has a few contract workers who help set up sales and works with three other auctioneers who each have their own business.
In addition to their four children, the Buntjers also have four grandchildren, all of whom live within an hour of them.
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On the auction block with Jess Donkersloot

Jess Donkersloot owns Highway 59 Auction Service in Slayton and Interstate Auction Center in Brandon. His interest in the auction business began many years ago in the sale barns around Worthington where he grew up and still lives today.
“Since I could walk I was in a sale barn,” said Donkersloot, now 51.
Donkersloot started working in the Worthington sale barn when he was 13. At 15 he started helping at the Slayton sale barn. At 16 or 18 he obtained his auctioneer license in Minnesota.
He said auctioneering is something people can either do or they can’t.
“If your tongue can do the lingo, you got it,” he said. “It’s nothing you can teach.”
Over the years, Donkersloot worked with auction companies in Minnesota, Iowa and South Dakota. He spent 37 years working for the Canby sale barn.
Donkersloot said his favorite parts of the auction business are the atmosphere and the people.
“I call it the common folk,” he said.
About 13 years ago he took over Interstate Auction Center in Brandon after Luverne Johnson died. Then seven years ago he started Highway 59 Auction Service in Slayton.
Donkersloot specializes in machinery, including farm equipment and construction equipment. He also has an occasional  lawn and garden and recreational equipment sale. Most of his business is done within a 50 to 100-mile radius of Worthington where he lives with his wife Lori on the acreage that he grew up on.
Donkersloot said the auction business has changed significantly since he started in it, especially in the last few years, with online auctions becoming much more popular. His businesses have the capacity to hold online auctions, but he doesn’t utilize it much.
“I think it’s going to be a fad,” he said of the online auctions.
He believes people still want to go to the auctions, see and touch the items and maybe even have a burger while they’re there. Nonetheless, he said the online options have had an impact on his business.
“It hurts, but I don’t have a lot of overheard,” he said.
Donkersloot said he’s also seen the closure of some of the area sale barns that he spent time in as a youth. He said he used to go to six sales a week, but there just aren’t that many sale barns around now.
More recently, Donkersloot said his business, particularly in Minnesota, has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions. He said his first auction in Minnesota since the pandemic began was scheduled for June 1 in Slayton. He said he planned to ask people to practice social distancing and would have hand sanitizer available. Masks are up to the individual. He said about 10 percent of the people at a May 2 auction in Brandon had masks on.