PITTSFIELD, Ill. — Brian Curless likes his music like he likes his auctions. Live.
“There’s nothing like being there,” he said.
Curless was there at the Public Auction Yards in Billings, Mont., when he won the 2017 World Livestock Auctioneer Championship.
“A couple of years ago, in 2015, I was reserve champion, and this year, I was fortunate enough to win it. It’s the pinnacle of auctioneering in the livestock industry,” said Curless, who owns and operates Curless Auction in Pittsfield.
Live auctions are hotter than ever, whether it’s land or livestock or estate sales, and Curless said that online auctions along with TV shows that feature auctions and auctioneers have helped boost interest.
“When the internet auctions started, people were scared to death that the live auctions were going to go away. The way I see it, they have drawn more interest to the live auction. We have TV shows about auctions, and those have generated interest in live auctions. It draws interest to the live auctions,” he said.
Curless also sees different forms of auctions and multiple ways to bid, even at live auctions, as beneficial to the industry.
“In my view, there is room for all of these auction platforms and venues. It’s whatever works best for an individual person,” he said.
His family owned a livestock marketing service in Pittsfield, although he is he first generation in his family to become an auctioneer. When the family closed their auction in 2000, he went on to help at other auctions.
Today, in addition to owning his own auction service, Curless helps out with sales at the F&T Livestock Market in Palmyra, Mo.; the Fairview Sale Barn in Fairview, Ill.; and the Kirksville Livestock Market in Kirksville, Mo. He also auctioneers at sales of purebred cattle around the region and the U.S.
With consolidation in the hog and poultry market, cattle are his focus.
“The folks who sponsor this contest, the Livestock Marketing Association, their purpose is to support and protect local livestock auction markets. That’s where most feeder cattle are marketed today,” said Curless, who firmly believes in live auctions as a vital tool for the cattle industry.
“Through the auction method of selling, there is true price discovery and open competitive bidding yields in top prices,” he said.
For Curless, it’s about getting the top dollar for his customer, whether that’s a rancher or farmer selling cattle as their primary income source or owners of farmland or a family in an estate sale.
“We have different buyers for farmland, for cattle, for estate sales, so we speak to them in a language they can understand. We want to welcome them to the bidding process,” he said.
The demand now at auctions is for top-end goods, whether that’s the best cattle, the finest farmland or rare antiques and household items.
“In general, demand now is for the higher-quality version of whatever it is you are selling. Our society is wealthy enough that we gravitate toward the things that have a higher value,” Curless said.
He’s been selling for 25 years, after growing up working with his father and grandfather at their sale barn. He said that even now, practice — and passion — makes perfect.
“You’ve got to have a passion for it, and you better like it when you get up in the morning. It’s a lot of hard work and a lot of practice,” he said.