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Women bend the marketing curve

Sarah Schaffer can tell you anything about the farm's crop production history, chemical and fertilizer applications, crop insurance coverage, or the R-value of insulation in their new machine shop.

But when it comes to marketing grain, she's likely to turn to her husband, Patrick. The Eau Claire, Wisconsin, farm woman isn't unusual.

"I'm somewhat conservative," she says. "It's a big responsibility, and I'm not comfortable with risk. I need to know more."

That's why Schaffer and a growing number of women are taking the initiative to learn about marketing from the ground up. In 2008, she attended monthly meetings with a dozen women.

"I already understood basis and cash price," Schaffer says. "In class we practiced pricing grain using cash sales, puts, and calls. I could ask a lot of questions."

A 2008 Successful Farming Women in Agriculture Survey revealed that 48% of women said they have 'considerable or great interest' in marketing.

With volatile markets and tight margins, it takes teamwork to stay on top. Marketing can make the difference, and women can help.

As the face of agriculture changes (the 2007 Ag Census revealed nearly a 30% increase in women principal farm operators since 2002), women are extending their reach from behind the counter at grain elevators to positions as commodity brokers. A growing number of marketing classes are led by a woman and taught in a women-only format.

'"I encourage women to take time to learn and be involved," says Naomi Blohm, a broker at Stewart-Peterson, West Bend, Wisconsin. "I say marketing is how you get paid for your hard work."

Blohm's colleague at Stewart-Peterson's Elmwood, Illinois, office, Cathy Ekstrand, says that most women have all the makings of good marketers. She says they're:

  • Enthusiastic learners.
  • Open-minded to different strategies.
  • Unembarrassed to ask questions.
  • Involved in financial records.
  • Unemotional about selling the crop.

'Women have a different perspective," agrees Janelle Guericke, a broker at Midwest Grain Marketing, Mitchell, South Dakota. "They say, 'If I'm clearly making money, why not sell more crop?' Women are content with a comfortable profit; they don't feel a need to have bragging rights."

Guericke has been coteaching a five-week marketing class for the past dozen years and presenting women-only workshops, including Women in Denim and Women in Blue Jeans, for eight years.

"I've noticed that if you can get a woman involved as a partner with her spouse in marketing, it seems as though their operation does better," she says. "Marketing is a full-time job. If both spouses work at it part time, it lightens the load."

For women starting at the ground level, Blohm suggests these four steps.

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