Stockyard fires impact farmers

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Two stockyards in Tennessee burned this week and officials say the fires will hurt their areas' farm economies. Other stockyards, however, may benefit because of the fires.

"Whenever you lose a facility like that, you lose some of your competition," said Rick Skillington, director of Marshall County Agricultural Extension Service. "When farmers carry their livestock to market, they like the competition."

The Tennessee Livestock Producers Association barn in Fayetteville "was destroyed by fire," the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation said. The Federation owns the association and recently bought land for another auction house in Fayetteville.

A trucker in Fayetteville called in the fire at 12:14 a.m. Wednesday, according to the city's interim fire chief.

Jackie Hamilton owns Paris Livestock Sales in Henry County with Robert Parchman. Hamilton said their stockyard was burning Tuesday morning, that it's replacement cost is about $450,000, but reconstruction on that land depends on Paris planning commissioners since their 1934 barn was an agricultural use in the city before land use zoning.

"The fire marshal got the call at 12:10 a.m. Tuesday," Hamilton said.

Bedford County Extension Agent John Teague said "a lot of people" from Bedford County sold livestock in Fayetteville, most of them from the southern part of the county.

Skillington said the fire in Fayetteville "will definitely increase the numbers in Unionville [at the Mid-South Livestock Center, where cattle are sold on Mondays] as well as those in Lewisburg, Pulaski and the other barn in Fayetteville."

Cattle sales were added to goat sales at the Marshall County Stockyard last year after Larry R. Smotherman, Dennis Garrett and Billy Joe "BJ" Johnson II started leasing the stockyard on Finley Beech Road from Larry Yokley in February.

"We're getting more cattle and goats," Garrett said of business before the fires. "Everybody else was shut down for Christmas."

"People will look for other places to sell their stock," Johnson said. "Those at Unionville will get some. There's another sale in Fayetteville. It's a farmer's auction. There's a sale in Pulaski. They'll pick up a few.

"We're doing good," Johnson said. "We had sales through the holidays."

Causes sought

While two fires on successive mornings appeared suspicious and were being investigated, Hamilton and Fayetteville's interim fire chief, Danny Travis, said on Wednesday they had no reason to believe foul play caused the fires in their towns.

A space heater was to be examined in Fayetteville and fireworks had been shot in the vicinity of the barn in Paris. Other causes were also being considered.

Travis said the Federation-owned stockyard in Fayetteville had three barns. The middle barn with the show ring and office burned.

"I don't think it's going to be arson because from what I could see, there were some heaters in the center of the main barn," Fayetteville's interim fire chief said. "The heaters were in the show ring office."

State Arson Investigator Russell Robinson was called to Fayetteville, Travis said.

Livestock Producers Association General Manager Darrell Ailshie was quoted by the Associated Press as saying space heaters weren't used at the Fayetteville barn offices which had central heat and air conditioning.

In Paris, Hamilton said, "We're not 100 percent sure on where it started, but they were shooting fireworks [for the New Year] and there was a 45 mph wind... The fireworks were down the road."

The building had gas heat, he said. The scales room had a heater. Hamilton also spoke of an electrical heater.

Impact felt

Henry County Agricultural Extension Agent Ken Goddard said the fire would cause "tremendous" economic damage since Paris Livestock had special auctions for cattle, horses and mules.

"It's a vital part of our agricultural economy," Goddard said. "It's sad to see nothing but rolls of tin roofing on the grounds."

Skillington said the fire in Fayetteville presents "a major problem for the Tennessee Livestock Producers, the marketing arm of the Tennessee arm Bureau Federation."

The federation-owned association is in the process of building a livestock center in Columbia to replace the one in Thompson's Station," Skillington continued, "but that new one in Columbia isn't open yet."

Moving some livestock sales to other auction barns "may help some of the producers because there will be larger runs," Skillington said. "But a lot of the producers will have an extra expense having to truck them, plus the stockyard in Fayetteville was the ideal location for the big trucks to hit from the Interstate."

Substantiating information about extensive sales this year, because drought prompted farmers to cull their herds, is Fayetteville Police Chief Doug Carver.

"They had a big year selling cattle," Carver said. "Because of them, we had to send officers out there to direct the traffic."

Selling cattle because of drought, however, is a double-edged sword.

"We had some good runs," Hamilton said of sales at Paris Livestock, "but it hurt us in the long run, moving a lot of cattle from the drought. You lose it in the long run."

Other drought fires

Mooresville Volunteer Fire department Assistant Chief Tom Wilson was badly burned during one fire last year when his treatment required skin grafts on 80 percent of his left arm, according to Lewisburg Police Chief Larry Williams who's a captain at Mooresville.

"Tom went back to work in late December" as a regional manager for an insurance company in Columbia, Williams said.

Wilson was burned fighting a barn fire that also burned hay and a tractor during the weekend of the Goats, Music and More Festival here in October.

"There was an indication that somebody had a fire in a barn and left it," said Sheriff Les Helton, "not to say somebody set the barn on fire. I feel they probably felt they had put the fire out.

"But barn fires are just as serious as a house fire and we all know how dry it has been," the sheriff said.

One of his detectives, Bob Johnson, arrested two suspects in connection with a fire east of Cornersville, Chief Deputy Billy Lamb said.

Grass fires have been just as much of a problem, said Marshall County Emergency Management Agency Director Bob Hopkins.

He noted that the state had reinstituted its requirement for a burn permit.

"Actually," Hopkins said, "we've been pretty fortunate to not have any more fires than we did, as dry as it's been."

No animals lost

Since most stockyards were closed for the holidays, there were few animals at the fires.

"There were some cattle in the keeper pens and we turned them loose into a fenced area," Fayetteville's interim fire chief said.

In Paris, Hamilton said, "We had no cattle there, but we had 1,400 booked in for this coming Monday."

About 45,000 animals had been sold annually at the Fayetteville auction barn, the Livestock Producers general manager told the AP. The facility served about 20 counties in South Central Tennessee and Northern Alabama.

An office is being set up in the Farm Bureau building in Fayetteville to handle orders, and association leaders hope to have a temporary auction facility established after investigators complete their work, the wire service reported.