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Double-team marketing

How many times have you heard that it's a man's world? When it comes to marketing farm commodities, that conventional wisdom is an old wives' tale.

Just ask the women who meet at the Riverland Energy Co-op in Arcadia, Wisconsin, every other month. In this risky new world of market volatility and dysfunctional futures prices, they've discovered at the close of the day that two heads are better than one.

Women have been cultivating their marketing skills over the past two decades. The difference today is that more classes, like the Women to Women group in Arcadia, are led by a woman and taught in a women-only format.

"Marketing is less intimidating in a group of women and taught by other women," says Darby Sampson, who farms with her husband, Clint, near Melrose.

The Arcadia program grew out of a marketing workshop taught by Naomi Blohm, Janet Schneider, and Joanne Theisen at the 2007 Wisconsin Corn/Soy Expo.

"We had a small room with a table for about 10, and we ended up with standing room only," says Blohm, a market adviser for Stewart-Peterson in West Bend, Wisconsin.

The crowd caught the attention of Toby Lubinsky, a risk management specialist at Badgerland Financial, Mondovi. She took the initiative to help organize regional workshops.

About 10 to 15 women, ranging from their mid-20s to 60s, continue meeting regularly in Arcadia.

Blohm, who grew up near Cambridge, Wisconsin, gained an early marketing education by watching her father buy corn and soybeans from a family member's elevator for his dry dog food business.

"Women need at least a working understanding of marketing so they can discuss farm finances," she says. "Women are very savvy and look at marketing profits in terms of paying off debt and sending kids to college.
"I like to see their self-esteem and confidence grow," she adds. "They feel more empowered to talk to their husbands about trends and technicals, and be part of farm decisions."

Sampson attended the Corn/Soy Expo workshop with her husband. Together, with her in-laws, they grow 2,000 acres of corn and beans, and raise about 100 head of cattle.

She decided to sign up for more classes. "I had no marketing background," she says. "It was a lot of complicated information to take in."

At the end of each class, the women make price projections and simulate marketing decisions together. At the next meeting, they look back to track profit or loss.

"You can just learn the vocabulary, but these predictions make it more hands-on," Sampson says.

She adds, "By taking these classes, Clint and I can talk more about finances and decisions. When I come home, he asks what I learned."

In between classes, she monitors market reports. "At this point we're mostly forward-contracting to our local elevator and ethanol plant," she says. "Any tool to minimize your risk helps your bottom line."

How many times have you heard that it's a man's world? When it comes to marketing farm commodities, that conventional wisdom is an old wives' tale.

Janice Fitzgibbon farms with her husband, John, near Pleasantville. She hasn't missed a meeting. "This past year, John gave me a small amount of grain to market, and I did pretty well," she says.

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