Once a month, Phil Ferda drives 30 miles to meet with fellow farmers and ranchers to discuss work, the weather and ways to earn more money...

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BILLINGS, Mont. — Once a month, Phil Ferda drives 30 miles to meet with fellow farmers and ranchers to discuss work, the weather and ways to earn more money on cattle and grain.

It’s time well spent, Ferda says: He estimates that the information swapped and strategies learned at his marketing-club meetings have helped him earn thousands of dollars more each year than if he’d never started making the trips to Great Falls.

“I hate to miss a meeting,” he said recently. “I always figure there’s something I’m going to miss out on.”

In Montana and other farm states, marketing clubs have gained a faithful following from farmers and ranchers seeking greater returns on crops and cattle. Although each group is different — some trade futures and options, others take field trips or bring in speakers — they all want to help producers minimize their risk and boost their profits.

“It’s a risky environment,” said Kevin McNew, an agricultural economist at Montana State University. “Over the years, everyone in agriculture has tried to educate producers about managing that risk.

“This is hopefully what marketing clubs are doing,” McNew said. “Showing them you can have control and can manage the risk.”

Texas farmer Danny Krienke started attending a marketing club in 1996 after completing an intensive marketing-education program. He said as early as the first year he was able to lock in some of the best corn prices he’d seen.

Krienke said he has consistently seen better returns by closely monitoring the markets, and feels more comfortable “pulling the trigger,” committing to sell wheat or corn at a set price.

Talking over his plans or concerns with other producers in similar situations has helped, he said.

“You learn to respect each other and ask, ‘Is this idea I have so wrong?’ ” said Krienke, who attends club meetings at a restaurant.

“You have a chance to talk about it, and maybe someone else is thinking the same thing you are.”

Scott Strawn, a Texas agricultural extension agent who gets members back on track if they get sidetracked talking about politics or production levels, said the meetings help members build trust.

“They’re literally sharing a lot of business with other members and getting advice,” he said. “I think that’s neat.”

Many clubs bring in speakers, such as grain traders, flour millers and agricultural economists, who provide insight into the marketplace and ways producers can take financial advantage of market fluctuations.

Clubs also monitor global weather, trade issues and commodity prices, and discuss options for a more profitable business.