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Group makes marketing fun

Someday Klayton Plagge can brag that he cut his teeth on crop marketing. The 2-year-old has attended an Iowa Falls, Iowa, marketing club since he was born. He can thank his mom, Val, one of the first members. Like Klayton, she’s learning to walk before she runs. “I have a basic knowledge of markets and marketing, and the meetings help me learn new things,” she says. “My husband enjoys marketing, but he’d like me to step in when needed.”

Women are assuming key roles in farm management, including marketing. Some advisers say women are less likely than men to hold out for the top price, taking a profit when it comes. “You have to look at the average price you sold for the entire marketing year and not get caught up in the times you sold too low or didn’t sell enough,” says Laurie Johnson.

She keeps the farm records, drives the tractor and combine, and assists her husband full time on their farm in Belmond, Iowa.

Continued market volatility makes it tough to remain confident. That’s why Johnson, like Plagge, joined the Iowa Falls women’s marketing group three years ago.


April Hemmes, the Hampton farmer who organized the group, says mentoring is a key component of the club. “The best part is the networking,” she says. “It’s amazing how this group has jelled over the years.”

Gayle Granzow agrees. “Some women are the CEOs of the farm business,” she says. “Some are in charge of purchases or marketing. Others, like me, help with decisions and want to understand the choices. We care and are interested in the workings of our family business, and we want to be involved. We’re all ages.”

One member was thrust into a new role. “I needed a crash course in Farming 101,” Monica Lursen says. “I was a farmer’s daughter and a farmer’s wife for 41 years. I kept the books, but I wasn’t prepared to be the farmer.”

Lursen, a registered dietitian, meets with club members and farm management field specialist, Kelvin Leibold, from November through April at the Hardin County Extension office.

“Mentoring was a huge part of the nutrition world where I worked with women,” she says. “I was concerned about working in a man’s world of farming and trucking. Along with my attorney, financial adviser, and accountant, I look to these gals and Kelvin as my mentors.”

She and her son, Chris, 32, who works for Case IH, share marketing decisions. “I’m somewhat more confident,” she says. “I remember my husband’s advice not to look back once a sale is made. The club helps with tips like higher LP prices this fall due to late planting.”

Sue Benning, Fredericksburg, stays at her family farm for the meetings, which often are prior to key USDA reports. “We learn from one another, from Kelvin, and from guest speakers,” she says. “We learn how marketing strategies work, without criticism from spouses. There are no stupid questions. We set our pace.”

Benning marketed hogs on her family farm for 14 years. “Now that the livestock’s gone, I want to do more grain marketing,” she says.

Laugh & learn

Iowa Falls is home to Flint Hills Renewables (an ethanol plant), a Cargill soybean meal and diesel processing plant, and Christensen Farms and feed mill. These businesses are a source of local speakers, along with co-ops and other ethanol plants within a 90-mile radius.

Hemmes received two grants from USDA’s North Central Risk Management Education Center. Chad Hart, Iowa State University Extension crop markets specialist, visited via video conference, and the club played The Commodity Challenge, an online University of Minnesota marketing game.

“Kelvin explains graphs and charts,” Granzow says. “He won’t tell us what to do. He wants us to have a written plan and to be ready to make sales. He’s trying to entice us to use options and to understand their value. There’s a lot of laughter at our meetings. Kelvin and our group dynamics make for fun learning.”

Hemmes adds, “A couple of husbands asked to attend once, and it totally changed the group dynamics. The women shut down.”

The women typically hold morning meetings. Member Mary Balvanz helps a young woman who works full time. “I mentor her once a week and share information from our meetings,” she says.

Linda Guy also is a newbie. “I’m here to learn from the ground up,” she says. “My husband hopes I’ll gain from it and share notes with him.”

Up & down markets

Hemmes adds, “Some of the younger women haven’t had to struggle with prices below break-even. When we started in 2010, we had prices on the board for much of the year under $4 for corn futures. Then it went up at harvest. We know it can easily head back down. That’s why it’s important to keep up on markets and reports.”

Balvanz agrees, “It’s challenging to market with such volatility. Crop insurance is an essential part of my plan.”

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