Iowa Women Farmers Hone Marketing Skills for U.S. Soy

Joseph L. Murphy

Joseph L. Murphy

Light Shaping Photography & Communications

Thin market, carryover, strengthening basis and arbitrage – the terms can be dizzying for those not directly tied to marketing soybean crops. But what if you step into a role that demands you know those terms and the strategy behind them?

That’s what happened when April Hemmes, an Iowa soybean farmer, returned to the farm to work with her father and grandfather in the 90s.

“For my grandpa and dad, the harder you worked, the more important that was,” Hemmes says. “I believed it wasn’t necessarily how hard you worked on the farm, it was how well you sold that crop. So that became a focus for me.”

She could see the importance of concentrating her time on grain marketing when not in the cab of a tractor.

“I could quickly see the better you sold your grain, the more money you could make,” she says. “And not just when you needed money.

“You could sell ahead. I knew I needed to hone my skills on grain marketing and pay more attention to it.”

But how do you absorb the terminology, the philosophy and the strategies of grain marketing while raising children and working full-time on the farm?

To Hemmes’ surprise, she wasn’t the only person asking those questions and seeking information. After visiting with Kelvin Leibold, a farm management specialist with Iowa State University (ISU) Extension and Outreach, she realized others were in the same situation.

“He knew ten women, and I knew ten women,” Hemmes says with her patented smile. “That’s how it all started.”

For the past 12 plus years, Hemmes, Leibold and Laurie Johnson have formed the perfect triangle in Hemmes’ mind. She is quick to say that Leibold has the industry connections and marketing background and Johnson is a “go-getter” and a “doer.” Hemmes completes the triangle by bringing them all together.

“We all learn from each other and that’s the great part of it. There are no egos involved, no big secrets,” she says.

Why only women? Hemmes says when they started, it was open to anyone, but she noticed the women were reserved when asking questions.

“After that we decided no more boys allowed,” she says.

Members of the Iowa Women Grain Marketing Group meet once a month from November to April from 9 a.m. to noon. They examine U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports, study economic takeaways from Iowa State University (ISU) Extension staff and listen to scheduled speakers.
Members also report on international commodity trips and pre-COVID trade missions.

“I recently traveled to Dubai with the U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC),” Hemmes says. “I was able to tell the others about the soybean oil business established in the Middle East. Before COVID, several members also hosted international buyers on our farms.”

In February, the group listened to Mac Marshall, the vice president of market intelligence at the United Soybean Board and USSEC. They asked questions and learned about important soybean checkoff initiatives impacting their farms.

“It’s about learning what the market is telling us,” Hemmes says. “We’re not only learning how the market works, but why it is working like it is.”

Hemmes will attest that she has become a better decision-maker and marketer on her farm because of the club. Several years ago, the group conducted a survey to secure grant money for speakers. They found that some participants attributed a minimum of $10,000 of income to their farm due to their involvement with the group.

“I’m sure that number would be higher now with the rising cost of soybeans,” Hemmes says. “It’s giving them the knowledge, the ability and the strength from within to do some of these things.”

The pandemic has hindered the group’s live meetings but they have adapted by using Zoom and other digital platforms. The temporary switch away from live sessions has given the group the ability to reach new women and involve other speakers.

“Marketing is easy. It’s just not simple,” Leibold likes to say. “I hope it’s providing some motivation to take action. You can write down the world’s greatest marketing plan, but if you don’t implement any of it, you won’t get far.”

Leibold has worked with the ISU Extension and Outreach for 33 years, starting as a county agent and now in a 12-county area that focuses on ag economics. He’s worked with the group since the start.

“I hope that they gain a better understanding of calculating their cost of production, understanding the risk they take and the risk-bearing ability that they have,” he says. “And that they can develop a marketing plan that doesn’t necessarily give them the highest price but manages their business from an economic standpoint to make sure they are sustainable.”

Leibold says that if others are interested in learning more about grain marketing and ag economics, they can contact their local extension service or land grant college.

“It’s been a fun group,” he says. “It’s interesting watching the participants grow both personally and professionally. We have a lot of talent in the group.”
Johnson says it is vital to seek information to help their farming operation.

“As a woman in agriculture, don’t be afraid to reach out to people, go to meetings and keep learning,” Johnson said in a video interview for ISU Extension.

“There’s always things changing and evolving, and don’t be afraid to go out and ask questions.”