Varner honored by Minnesota cattle producers

By Carol Stender

FERGUS FALLS, Minn. — Joe Varner’s usual seat at a sales barn is next to the auctioneer. The Pierz native looks at the cattle closely as they enter the ring and sets the auctioneer’s starting price.

Varner owns or is in partnership in 16 livestock auction barns in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. More than 900,000 head a year go through his sales rings, he said. Around 10,000 head a week are marketed through the Minnesota sales barns.

Varner’s knowledge of cattle and support of cattle producers has earned him the Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association’s Industry Service Award.


Varner said his schedule was too busy to allow him to pick up the award. He works six days a week traveling to the auction barns to help with sales.

Varner is honored by the association’s award, he said. He’s worked in the industry since high school and has established strong ties to cattle producers.

He grew up on a Pierz-area farm. His father, Robert, raised 600 beef and 40 dairy cows plus hogs on the family’s Pierz farm.

His father worked at a local livestock auction barn and Joe followed his father’s lead.

He built his first auction barn in 1981. More than a decade later, he built another auction site in Bagley followed by a third in Fergus Falls in 2003.

"When we opened up (in Fergus Falls), there wasn’t much," he said. "Today we market around 2,000 head. I think it’s really helped the area."

Each area offers something different for cattle producers, he said. The cattle and types of farms differ throughout the state, he said.

His knowledge of regional markets and cattle types is key. His challenge is to merchandise and sell the producer’s cattle at a high price, he said.


He expects the volume to continue through the beginning of the new year but says it may drop by spring. Cattle producers are selling off parts of their herds due to high feed costs, caused by high corn prices, and poor hay crops due to drought.

He credits his workers for the success.

"I have good help," he said. "Without that help with the truckers to auctioneers to other employees it would be impossible to do this... And I need to thank all the people who support our auction. I will work hard in the future to provide them good service and to market their livestock."

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