NY Auction Company Focusing on Family Farmers

1/26/2013 7:00 AM
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant New York Correspondent

SAVANNAH, N.Y. — After 10 years in business, Hilltop Dairy Sales held its last auction Dec. 21. But don’t expect business partners Jay Martin and Elmer Zeiset to hang up the gavel anytime soon.

They’re simply shifting their attention to their sister business, Lakeview Holstein Sales in Penn Yan, Yates County. The second business has been auctioning ag items at monthly sales events since February 2012.

Shuttering the Savannah site and focusing on Penn Yan makes good business sense to the duo.

“We’ve got a lot more family farms down there and more dairy farms,” Zeiset said. “Up here (in Savannah, Wayne County), there are more big dairies. The little family farms are the ones always buying the heifers.”

Larger operations such as those in Wayne County typically raise their own.

At any one particular auction Zeiset and Martin host, about 200 to 300 attend, with about 50 to 75 of those registered as bidders. Lately, those numbers have been growing even higher.

“We enjoy it,” Zeiset said. “We have room for about 300 cattle in Penn Yan. It’s an opportunity to open down there.”

A farmer himself, Zeiset began buying cattle for others 15 to 20 years ago. That aspect of the business became so popular that he dedicated a barn on his farm as a “sales barn.”

“It just took over,” he said. “I enjoy working for people, buying and selling.”

He continued selling in Savannah and occasionally in surrounding towns for on-site auctions, with Martin swinging the gavel and with the help of a dozen or so animal handlers. The business grew for the next several years.

A little more than a year ago, a Mennonite from Penn Yan asked Zeiset if he would consider opening a sale barn there. Many Plain farmers lack a means of hauling cattle long distance, so an auction held near their farms would provide a much-needed service.

“It’s nice to have a place closer to them,” Zeiset said. “We have a good, strong market. We try to have quality cows.”

The animals are sourced from Batavia, Albany and other areas of the Empire State.

Martin agrees that Penn Yan “is a better dairy area,” he said. “A lot of Mennonite farmers are in the area and they really support our sales.”

He hopes to grow the business in Penn Yan and possibly hold bi-weekly auctions.

Also from a farm background and currently a crop farmer, Martin was first introduced to agricultural auctions as a youngster. His father even entrusted him to buy cows for their dairy operation, though Martin was only a teenager at the time.

Martin wants to keep the business he and Zeiset now operate firmly planted in agriculture and not get into household auctions.

“I don’t plan on going any further than what we’re doing: machinery and agriculture,” he said. “I’m agriculture-minded as a farmer. It helps because you know your values on equipment.”

Martin and Zeiset hope to expand machinery auctions they operate at the Waterloo-based Martins Country Store parking lot. They have had sales of $1 million at one such event.

Martins Country Store sells Amish-made furniture, home decor, gifts and lawn furniture. Martin and Zeiset hope to hold sales there more frequently than quarterly. The first auction held there for 2013 is scheduled for March 2.

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