Dustin Focht takes title at LMA's 50th Anniversary World Livestock Auctioneer Championship
Since taking the Livestock Marketing Association’s World Livestock Auctioneer (WLA) Championship in Alabama last June, Dustin Focht estimates he has driven 12,000 miles in the customized 2013 Ford F-150 pickup truck he won and flown up to 20,000 miles—and that’s after only about 30 percent into his year-long term.
Constantly on the move, Focht, 43, from Stillwater, OK, will be in virtually perpetual motion this next year after besting competitors at the WLA’s 50th anniversary championship in Montgomery, crisscrossing the nation from coast to coast and even traveling into Canada. WLA is based in Kansas City, MO.
Within only a few days one week, Focht flew from Washington D.C. to St. Joseph, MO, to Chicago, IL, to Lexington, KY, and back to Oklahoma. This month and October promise to be especially busy for his travel itinerary. He’s one of relatively few livestock auctioneers in the U.S.
The LMA represents more than 800 members in the U.S. and Canada, and 70 percent of actual livestock markets throughout the U.S. “It’s the greatest organization as far as livestock marketing is concerned,” Focht said during a Western Livestock Journal telephone interview. “It’s as instrumental as any organization in history when it comes to competitive pricing.”
Auctioneering ensures the true price value of all classes of livestock and sets the cash market for all other methods of selling.
In his extensive travels as an auctioneer, Focht has learned firsthand about the challenges confronting livestock producers nationwide.
Increasing input costs, including steep hay and energy expenses, and overall overhead production costs are combining to put ranchers and farmers in a tight vise.
Severe drought, wildfires and tornadoes have forced many producers to cull their herds so heavily that the nation’s total number of cattle is at historic lows. “Texas is down about a million cows. We‘ve got lots of room for heifer retention and replacement,” Focht said, noting Oklahoma ranchers also have had to slash herds as their pond waters and creeks have dried up the past four years. “A huge number of cows in Texas and Oklahoma have been sold.”
Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois, the Dakotas and New Mexico also have suffered from sustained adverse weather, he noted. “A lot of range and grassland have been burned by fire or lack of moisture. After many years, grasses lose their nutrients. It takes several years for those things to rebuild and regenerate.”
Usually, the number of cattle moved to market spikes following “weatherrelated tragedies,” he observed, adding that a boost in receipts is a good indication of severe conditions.
Focht estimates it will take three to four years to rebuild the nation’s diminished livestock herds. “Very few people can haul that much water. It’s too expensive and labor intensive,” Focht said. “If they’re losing pasture land, you generally see them at the markets, and there is an increase in really good breeding age animals.”
Despite the extreme adversity, ranchers, farmers and other industry-related people remain very, very spirited and devoted, keeping their chins up, Focht said. America’s genetically higher quality meat is popular throughout the world.
“Global demand for our product has never been higher. We’ve got countries demanding our beef that quite honestly have not done so before.”
Focht started raising cattle in 2003, but sold his cows in 2011 because of Oklahoma’s severe drought. He started auctioneering when he was 30. “I never sold anything before I got indoctrinated by fire,” he said.
Focht’s grandfather was an auctioneer, but he died when Focht was in high school. Focht then attended Oklahoma State University and went to work in advertising for eight years in Chicago. That changed after a phone call with a friend who was an auctioneer in Oklahoma City.
Focht credits fellow Oklahoma auctioneers with helping him develop and hone his auctioneering skills. He was judged based on the clarity of his auction chant, vocal quality, ability to catch bids and conduct an actual sale, interview skills and whether judges would hire him for their own livestock markets.
Focht also won $5,000 in cash, a championship sculpture, a world class belt buckle, hand-tooled leather briefcase, a championship ring, a golden gavel award and a money clip. — Mark Mendiola, WLJ correspondent