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#15 Record Keeping

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Record Keeping is Good Business

At a minimum your farm will need a record keeping system for tax and legal compliance and it is highly recommended that you also keep yield and other farm production records that might be useful to making decisions on the farm. For example many growers keep weather logs so that they can evaluate their practices and yields and then make better growing practice and crop variety decisions for the coming year. You also might consider creating columns or breakouts for your most expensive or profitable enterprises to keep track of profits, and doing an hourly break down periodically to see how much time you or your employees are using on particular enterprises.  Many tools are available at the Northeast Beginning Farmer website:

Improving Profitability Tutorial
http://smallfarms.cornell.edu/plan-your-farm/achieving-or-improving-profitability/improving-profitability-tutorial/

Paper Records

Small farms and many businesses just starting out use the shoebox method of accounting. Keep all sales receipts in one folder, expense receipts in another, maintain a capital asset depreciation log, and you may have additional folders for farm yield or other data important to the year. The advantage of this system is that it is simple and easy to do. The disadvantage is that the data is not well organized so when you need farm information you often have to sort through piles of paper and do all computations by hand.

Cornell Farm Account Book

Cornell and many accounting services have pre-formatted account books with categories common to agriculture and additional areas for yield and capital asset data.  These are typically of nominal cost ($10-$20). The advantage of the farm account book is that it is easy to understand and the information is well laid out in case you need to access it later. The disadvantage is that the information may not be laid out how you as a manager would like it, and it is still a hand-entry accounting system so entering farm information may take several hours per week.

Featured Resource:

To order the Cornell Dairy Farm Account Book ($20) or the Cornell Classic Farm Account Book ($15), contact:
The Cornell Store
https://store.cornell.edu/c-1292-farm-books.aspx

Excel Spreadsheets
If you can use a basic spreadsheet in Excel or a similar program, this is a good compromise between paper systems and more sophisticated recordkeeping programs. Many new farmers start out with a simple spreadsheet like this one from Cornell (.XLS), which is intended for high tunnel crop producers but can be adapted for any operation. If you don’t need to generate invoices and have a relatively simple, small operation, a spreadsheet like this may serve your needs well for many years.

Quick Books

The most common software program for financial management is Quick Books; however, there are more expensive industry-specific programs specifically designed for dairy farms or wineries, for example. (Try searching online for “winery financial management software.”) If you are intimidated by QuickBooks, try their SimpleStart program from Intuit (search for this online). It’s free and is a good way to ease into using QuickBooks. If you are ready to upgrade at any point, you’ll be able to transfer your records seamlessly into the full QuickBooks program. Check out your local credit unions, banks, and Cooperative Extension to find out if they offer any QuickBooks trainings.

Farm Records Service

Some farmers choose to mail all invoices to an accounting service where the accountant will enter the information into a computer records system, provide you with detailed monthly business statements, and perform all tax functions. Farm Credit East at www.farmcrediteast.com/ is one company that provides these services.

The advantage of this system is that it provides a person who does not have the time, understanding of accounting, or computer skills the highest level of records information.  The disadvantage is that this system has the highest cost and the monthly business statements take a few weeks to process and get back whereas the person utilizing an on-farm computer records system will have those statements in real time.

 

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Comments

2 thoughts on “#15 Record Keeping

  1. Steav Smith says:

    I was looking for an article like this for a long time. Thanks for sharing the information with us. For the Small business which record-keeping method is appropriate.

  2. Tara Hammonds says:

    Hi Steav,
    Glad you enjoyed the article! The record keeping method that you use for your small business is going to depend on your budget and your comfort level with various methods; there is no right or wrong answer. You may want to take a look at our Achieving or Improving Profitability Tutorial, in which we touch on different record keeping strategies and help you decide which is right for your business.

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