Some of the most productive farm decisions in the Cornhusker State aren't made in fields, but around the kitchen tables of 15 southeastern Nebraska women.
These key farm decision makers call themselves the GRAIN Gals, short for Gals Reaping Agricultural Information in Nebraska. The group grew out of the University of Nebraska-sponsored Women in Agriculture conference and NU agricultural marketing workshops for women.
Members gather one morning a month, rotating among their homes in Aurora, Davenport, Edgar, Fairfield, Harvard, Lawrence, Lincoln, Oak or Roseland. Some discussion about their families flows with the morning coffee, but business dominates the agenda: crop updates, storage availability, market advisers' recommendations, software recommendations and tips from marketing meetings they have attended.
Participants represent varied life stages and financial goals.
"We get different perspectives," said Victoria Lipovsky, Fairfield. "Some of us are trying to acquire more land, others are trying to transition the land to their children and grandchildren."
Participants say they consider the group's all-female membership an asset.
"Women cooperate. We don't compete as much as men do," Lipovsky said.
"You don't feel afraid to ask questions," said member Pam Shuck, Edgar, who raises corn and soybeans with her husband, Brad. "I have never felt a competitive edge with any of the gals in GRAIN. We are just learning and helping each other."
Members credit group participation and the NU Women in Ag Marketing Curriculum with helping them learn ways to make their farm businesses more profitable.
"I grew up on a farm, but I didn't participate in any marketing," Lipovsky said. "I wouldn't have known about seasonal trends, marketing history and forward contracting."
Written marketing plans and techniques, such as forward contracting, have brought Lipovsky higher prices for the grain she and her husband, Robert, raise. Their marketing plan calls for selling the 2000 crop delivered in October-November for at least $2.10 per bushel. When corn prices reached $2.32 in May, Lipovsky didn't hesitate to sell some of the crop.
"A marketing plan gives you the discipline to pull the trigger and make the sale," said Lipovsky, secretary-treasurer of her family farm corporation. "Without a marketing plan, you get caught up in the emotion."
Teresa Meyer, Edgar, agrees learning the difference between merely selling and marketing grain, including the timing of sales, can improve a farm's bottom line.
"When it is a dollar-a-bushel difference, that is thousands of dollars," Meyer said.
Several years ago, when Shuck sold soybeans at just under $6 per bushel, she fretted about whether she should have waited for a higher price. But her timing was right--she sold at the peak price for the year.
Society overlooks farm women's financial contribution, said Deb Rood, program coordinator for the Department of Agricultural Economics, in NU's Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources. The marketing programs give farm women the knowledge and confidence to make significant business decisions, she said.
"l'm making a financial contribution to the farm," Lipovsky said. "It definitely is helping our bottom line, and my husband can focus on planting and growing and harvesting."
GRAIN serves some broader purposes, members said.
"We have turned into somewhat of a support group," Lipovsky said. "We try to stay upbeat and positive."
"Prices now are so low, it gets so you don't even want to follow the market," Shuck said. "You can get depressed over the prices, but when we get together, we cheer each other up. Everybody is in the same boat."
GRAIN members incorporate some fun into their schedules, including field trips to local grain handling facilities, NU's Food Processing Center, in Lincoln, and the Chicago Board of Trade. In November, members host a harvest celebration potluck supper, inviting spouses to share in the fruits of their year-round kitchen table labor.
For more information about NU-sponsored marketing programs, call Rood, at 402-472-1771.