Reflecting on 2023 with Reporter Elizabeth Rembert

20 de Diciembre de 2023 a las 05:00 ·

Two men stand side by side. They’re standing in front of a pickup that has a trailer labeled “CreamerAuctions.Com” sitting in the bed. A few people sit inside the trailer.
Auctioneer Ryan Creamer calls a bid from inside the trailer cab, while Austin Creamer monitors online bidding from a laptop. At this farm auction, Creamer said live auctions with internet bidders are the best selling opportunities. (Photo by Elizabeth Rembert, Harvest Public Media)

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This holiday season, Nebraska Public Media is reflecting on stories and topics our newsroom has covered over the past year.

Reporter Elizabeth Rembert joined Nebraska Public Media in 2021 to cover agriculture and rural communities through our partnership with Harvest Public Media.

In 2023, Rembert covered how drought affects the Midwest, negotiations over the upcoming Farm Bill, high food prices, what it means to work as a weather expert amid climate pushback and many other important stories. She said one of the most memorable stories of the year was when she examined how online sales have impacted rural auctions.

DALE JOHNSON: Elizabeth does so much of her expert reporting for Harvest Public Media -- based in Kansas City -- which is a multi-state collaboration of public media stations across the Midwest. That being said, Elizabeth works just a few feet from me in the Nebraska Public Media newsroom. You will also hear Elizabeth hosting All Things Considered every so often. What interests you about agriculture, Elizabeth?

ELIZABETH REMBERT: Well, I grew up on a farm in northeast Nebraska, a couple of miles outside of Bow Valley.

JOHNSON: I had to look that up. Yes, a Nebraska kid still has to look up a few places.

REMBERT: Yeah, that's my party trick, saying, I'm from Bow Valley, and people not knowing what that is.

JOHNSON: Earlier this year I heard you setting up interviews for this story on rural auctions. So, set that story up and tell us what you liked about doing that story on auctions?

REMBERT: Well, anyone who's been to an auction knows that they're very noisy. And so I was really excited to capture some of those sounds.

JOHNSON: The evolution of auctions is much different today than when I went to auctions as a kid growing up on the farm. Talk about what COVID did.

REMBERT: Yeah, I think that the online component had been there before COVID. But then, of course, when the pandemic happened, some auction houses had to shut down and people couldn't be in these spaces.

And so it really put the foot on the gas as far as online sales, and now it's just become a mainstay of the industry. 70% of the industry's $3 billion in sales come from web sales, according to an estimate from a national association.

And all of the auctioneers that I talked to said that if you're not having an online sale, you're leaving money on the table.

Because when you have online sale, you're just reaching more buyers and more buyers means more bids, means a higher price. Like the auction I attended for the story was in Carroll, Nebraska, so northeast Nebraska. But bidders were logging on from as far away as Montana to make a bid on that farm equipment.

JOHNSON: Has it diminished the social event of an auction?

REMBERT: I was surprised about that. Because that was really what I was most interested in when I started reporting on the story.

But I don't think it has. You know, maybe not as many people are coming to the in-person sales when they can just log on from home if they don't feel like making the trek.

But people are still there to see the neighbors. They're still there to see how things are selling. Like at that Carroll auction, most people I talked to weren't there to make a bid. They were there to chat. This was a retirement farm sale. And one person I talked to said, 'Well, did you know that retirement farm sales are kind of like retirement parties?' So all of this guy's farming friends came out to wish him well.

JOHNSON: Marketplace Morning Report picked up Elizabeth's auction story for NPR and then just last month, you had a story on climate experts facing threats over their reporting of climate change that was heard on NPR, props on both of those.

REMBERT: Thank you, I'm so lucky to be able to get stories to run nationally. And for this story in particular, I was really proud because I feel like a lot of rural reporting sometimes can be a little gloomy.

There are not resources that rural communities should have, like when it comes to housing or hospitals. But I really loved this story because it was just about this little slice of rural culture. I loved being able to bring that to a national audience who has never heard of Carroll, Nebraska or maybe doesn't understand what an auction is like.

JOHNSON: You can hear Elizabeth's rural auction story online. Elizabeth, Happy New Year.

REMBERT: Happy New Year to you, Dale.

JOHNSON: I'm Dale Johnson, Nebraska Public Media News.