Auctions: The American Free Enterprise System At Work

Written by: Andrew Jason
Photo courtesy of Steffes Group


Photos by Bethany Kiedrowski

The history of auctions goes back millennia. You can trace auctions back to as early as 500 B.C. in ancient Babylon. Over the thousands of years that followed, auctions remained just as relevant as they are today. In fact, auctions in the Red River Valley can be traced back to the early days of the state being founded and, for almost 60 years, a crucial part of the auction industry in the upper midwest has been Steffes Group. 

Founded by Robert Steffes in 1960, Steffes Group is now under the leadership of Scott Steffes, Robert’s son. While the auction industry has changed a lot over the years as they’ve adapted to changing technology, Steffes doesn’t think the industry is going anywhere for one simple reason. 

“The auction method of marketing is the ultimate expression of the American free enterprise system,” said Steffes. “The best part about auctions, more than anything else, is one word and one word only: fair.”

That fairness has increased the importance of auctions in the ag industry and Steffes Group has played an important role. Last year, their 87 employees did auctions in nine states and auctioned off nearly 35,000 acres of farmland and thousands of farm machinery and equipment lots at 365 different real estate and equipment auctions. Their footprint also extends far beyond just North Dakota. They have four offices for their employees and also have several returning registered bidders who are looking at and buying from auctions through the upper midwest. 

“We love the ag world,” said Steffes. “That’s our forte. It seems like over the 59 years that we’ve been involved in the auction business, the more we try to change our spots, the more they stay the same. We’re entrenched in the ag world. We like the people. We like the industry. We like our location. Everything about ag is central to North Dakota.”

Scott Steffes

While their adherence to the same industry has remained the same, the one thing that has changed dramatically over the years is the technology. The auction industry is seeing a drastic change as things move online. In fact, 50 percent of Steffes Group’s business now is done online.

“There’s a metamorphosis going on in our industry,” said Steffes. “We’re basically taking age-old processes and adapting them to the resources and technology that’s available to make it easier.”

However, despite this shift in technology, it is not affecting the number of live auctions. They are just using the ability to do online auctions to draw a larger crowd to the auctions. In fact, they have a registered bidder on their website from all 50 states. 

“In the auction world, the internet hasn’t changed the crowds at the auction sales but it’s exposed those products to a much larger audience,” said Steffes. “Before the internet, auctions have always been community oriented or local but now we do a farm retirement auction sale in Hillsboro, North Dakota, and we can bring the world to the yard. It makes a big difference.”

Despite the changing industry, there’s one competitive advantage, according to Steffes, that has always remained the same for Steffes Group.

“People. Bottom line. We all have the same schtick and we’re all trying to conduct business. However, at the end of the day, it’s all about people. We’re very fortunate in our world that we have a culture of work, which is nice. We have a culture of ethics and making sure that people are getting treated fairly and in the right manner.”

In Steffes Group’s mind, the only certain thing is change and Steffes also believes it boils down to perspective. The first farm auction sale that Robert Steffes did in 1960 was for $5,500. In today’s world, an average farm auction is around $550,000 or more. 

“The embracing of change is not any different today than it was even a century ago,” said Steffes. “Can you imagine what people thought when the railroads came in and started putting in Bonanza farms and bringing steam engines that could pull 10 bottom plows? Can you imagine how that was changed in terms of the sod farmers and the people who had 160 acres?”

It’s true that the only constant may be change but judging by the fact that auctions have been around for thousands of years, another constant is the guarantee that you will always be able to find an auction. 

Did you know?

Steffes performs onsite and online auctions, as well as AgIron events, farm real estate auctions, land brokerage and auctions, farm asset management and equipment appraisals. They do auctions of all sizes. 

If you go to, they provide real time auction results, news and information, as well as their new branded platform Steffes TV where they do auction sale recaps and video previews of upcoming auctions.

They have published a price guide containing everything they sold from the previous year since 1985. 

Every Auction Has A Story, We Want To Help Share Yours.™ If you go to, you will see all upcoming auctions, they provide real-time auction results, news and information, as well as their branded Steffes TV platform where they do auction sale recaps and video previews of upcoming sales. 

Steffes Group

Steffes Group Fast Facts

Founded in 1960
87 employees
50 percent of business is online
35,516 acres sold in 2018
2,457 tractors sold in 2018
543 combines sold in 2018
365 auctions last year
210 live on site with internet bidding
100 real estate auctions (also includes internet bidding and online auctions)
155 timed online auctions
4 offices
32 representatives throughout the midwest

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