Executive Women in Farming

January 7, 2014 06:03 PM
Executive Women  in Farming

Conference brings together farm women from around the U.S.

Working to hone their business, marketing and human relation skills, more than 250 women representing 30 states traveled to Chicago for the third annual Executive Women in Agriculture (EWA) Conference.

"It’s no longer just brawn required on the farm," says Jeanne Bernick, Top Producer editor. "More opportunities exist for women to own and operate farms and ag-related businesses."

Like-minded women gathered to learn about marketing, how to find and keep the best employees, tax pitfalls to watch for, what financial documents to keep and marketing yourself for the bank. Below are a few highlights. —Julie Deering

Your Files, Anywhere on the Farm

There are two things you need to make your farm go paperless—a killer scanner and a Dropbox account. Dino Giacomazzi, dairy producer and technology guru, says his farm has grown in efficiency by having all of his documents in one place.

Dropbox allows you to share folders with people so you can work together on projects and documents. You can invite friends, family or teammates to a folder.

"It’s as if you saved the folder to their computers," Giacomazzi says. But first, you need a really good scanner. He recommends the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 Scanner for PC or Mac, which sells for about $400.

On his farm, when bills come by mail, they go to an inbox and then go in the scanner. Once they are scanned in, the documents are filed in Dropbox. "Today, we don’t have to file any papers in folders. Everything that comes in is tagged, filed based on characters, and can be searched by farm or field," he says.

Giacomazzi shares his Dropbox with his dairy nutritionist, dairy testing company and veterinarian. "When my dairy nutritionist comes to the farm and writes a new recommendation, he can put it in Dropbox and everyone can see it," he says.

Answering a question from an attendee about security, Giacomazzi says the weakest link in your security chain is you. "Do not give anyone who calls you any information, and make sure you have a strong password," he says. DropBox has military-grade encryption. Other benefits of Dropbox include:

  • Instantly synchronize your computers, phones and the Dropbox website.
  • Starts at 2 GB for free and up to 16 GB with referrals.
  • Your files are always available from the secure Dropbox website.
  • Works with Windows, Mac, Linux, iPad, iPhone, Android and BlackBerry.
  • Allows you to work offline. —Jeanne Bernick

Take Control of Grain Marketing and Manage Risk

A risk manager advises Executive Women in Agriculture how to plan for 2014 profit margins.

In the face of 2014’s "extraordinary risk" for grain farmers, marketing is critical to maintaining profit margins, says a senior risk manager.

"Too many farmers focus only on production and don’t pay enough attention to price," says Kim Burton with Top Third Ag Marketing.

"The time of year does not and should not dictate when you market your grain," she adds. "Some of your best marketing opportunities occur well before harvest."

She urges grain farmers to be proactive, not reactive, when it comes to marketing their crop. Options can be used to manage risk and give advantages that other marketing techniques don’t. For example, the only money you have at risk is the option premium, commission and fees. Put options also protect your downside price risk but allow for upside potential.

Call options allow you to sell cash grain but also keep your foot in the door to take advantage of price increases, she says. They give the buyer the right but not the obligation to buy (or "go long") a particular futures contract at a specific time during the life of the option.

Puts are used to set a minimum selling price but not a ceiling, Burton explains. You pay a premium to set the price at a specific time in the future. "Puts can protect you if prices go lower," she says. They also allow you to walk away and capture higher prices if the cash market goes up.

A solid marketing plan will eliminate constant worrying about what the daily market is doing, says Burton. To become a better marketer, she recommends: take control of your farm’s marketing, quit making excuses for not marketing, don’t get emotional and stay focused on your marketing plan, be willing to sell cash grain, and develop a consistent plan and follow it. —Catherine Merlo

Among Burton’s key points:

  • Develop a marketing plan. It doesn’t need to be elaborate. Know your operation’s needs. Prior tax returns will help you learn about your finances.
  • Combine effective crop insurance with your marketing plan. Crop insurance is important and better than it used to be, but it basically protects ‘dead’ bushels. It’s not marketing.
  • Use options and forward contracting to manage risk. Buy put options to protect unsold bushels. Buy call options on the grain that has been sold. Never have puts and calls on the same bushel.
  •  Don’t become a speculator. That means you’re guessing, not protecting your crop.

Tips From Farm Women

With grain prices sinking and margins tightening, now is the time to hone in on business tips and advice from successful producers. Three farmers share stories and advice from their farming careers during a panel discussion. Here are three tips.

Mark your calendars!

EWA will be held Dec. 4-5, 2014, in downtown Chicago. Mark your calendars, tell a friend and plan to join us.

Network outside of the industry. Daphne Holterman farms near Watertown, Wis., with her husband and two partners. They have 900 dairy cows and farm 1,500 acres of alfalfa and corn silage. While Holterman loves people in the ag industry, she makes a point to meet successful people in industries beyond ag. "Sometimes I learn more from talking to my plumber and learning about his business," she says.

Make marketing a priority and learn from others. April Hemmes of Rafter H. Farms in Hampton, Iowa, was honored by Monsanto as America’s Farmers 2011 Farm Mom of the Year. As she got more involved in her farm, she knew her time was best spent on marketing. "I had to teach my dad and grandpa that an hour spent going to a marketing meeting was more important than an hour on the tractor," she says.

Hemmes is a member of an all-female marketing club that meets monthly from November through March. "We talk options, grain contracts and learn the different ways you can sell a crop," she says. "Learning what other people are doing is key."

Understand you can’t do it all. With her husband, Michelle Stewart runs a manure-spreading business and farms near Sheridan, Ill. In addition to their businesses, the couple has three young daughters. Achieving that coveted work-life balance is difficult. Stewart’s advice is to recognize that some tensions will always be there. "Take time for yourself and explain to your kids why you need to do it," she says. —Sara Schafer

#EWA13 Conference on Twitter

Attendees, sponsors and speakers from the conference helped spread tips and advice through social media. Here are a few tweets sent using the conference hashtag #EWA13.

  • @LathamSeeds  Assertive commun­ication is needed to get desired results. Be honest. Help others feel understood, and you’ll gain their respect.
  • @TomFarms  Lead by example and coach, coach, coach ... words to live by. —Daphne Holterman
  • @CeliaSalmon  Watching a filming of "U.S. Farm Report" hosted by
  • @Tyne_AgDay might be one of the coolest things this agriculture nerd has ever seen.
  • @MAavang60  Ag columnist Chris Barron at #EWA13: In the challenging ag environment, it’s essential to accurately calculate cost of production within 2¢ to 5¢.
  • @StoskopfDebes  Girl power! RT @topproducermag: Of the 3.3 million U.S. farm operators, more than 30% or more than 1 million are women.

For complete coverage from the Executive Women in Agriculture Conference, visit www.ExecWomeninAg.com.

Thank you to our EWA sponsors:
BASF, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, Monsanto America’s Farmers Mom of the Year, SFP, Top Third Ag Marketing


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