Sonoma County dairy farm hits the auction block

The dairy legacy that Marvin Nunes spent a lifetime building went on the auction block Wednesday, with bidders watching from around the U.S. and Canada.

Nunes' herd of nearly 600 registered Holsteins, renowned for their pedigrees and milk production, were sold off at his Ocean View Farms northwest of Santa Rosa on Mark West Station Road.

Those who wanted to see the cows firsthand watched from a large white pavilion, while online bidders could stay home and click to offer up to $15,0000 for one of the prized animals.

Despite the high bids and national interest, the auction was for many a sign of the ongoing difficulties in California's dairy industry.

Many dairies are losing money because of high feed costs, farmers said. A few North Bay dairies have closed in recent months, and dairymen fear more could follow.

"It's a losing battle," said Barbara Stevens, Nunes' partner of 16 years.

She said Nunes, who is 76, didn't feel like speaking publicly on a day in which he was leaving behind a lifetime in the dairy business.

The 177-acre farm that Nunes has owned for four decades is on the market for $6.95 million. The land, nestled between the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport and the Russian River, is advertised online as a site for vineyards that would sit "among some of the region's most prominent growers and wineries."

The auction Wednesday was a reminder that Sonoma County has been cow country for generations, and that until 1987 milk reigned over wine grapes as the top farm crop.

Five hours after the bidding began, more than 120 people still were gathered in or near the pavilion.

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