I recently came across a paper published in 1998 by the Department of Agricultural Economics at the University of Kentucky. The paper, Surviving a Farm Financial Crisis, provided recommendations farmers consider in tight financial times.
Fast forward to 2018 and those recommendations are relevant today. This article presents a condensed version of the paper published in 1998.
Farm financial survival relies upon good management, including successful production and financial planning. In times when net returns decline, the need for planning increases.
Two tools which can help organize the decision-making process are enterprise and cash flow budgets.
The budgets published by Ohio State University Extension provide cost and return estimates that serve as an excellent base for developing your own enterprise budgets.
Cash flow budgets
The cash flow budget is helpful in establishing a repayment plan and determining borrowing needs.
While the cash flow budget doesn’t project profits, but rather net cash flow, it can assist in providing data for other areas such as tax planning.
Business risks are mostly on the asset side of the balance sheet. Many are beyond the control of the farmer.
Farmers can minimize the effects of these business risks but the risks are still present.
Financial risks are directly controllable by the farmer. These risks are found on the liability side of the balance sheet and are determined by the degree of borrowing.
The debt-to-asset ratio compares total debt obligations owed against the value of the total farm assets. Debt/asset ratios below 50 percent are preferred. Debt-to-asset ratios above 50 percent indicate that more of the farm’s assets are owned by the lender than by the farmer.
Interest expense ratio
Another measure for determining if leverage is too high is the interest expense ratio. This ratio, taken from the income statement, is the total annual farm interest expense divided by annual gross revenues.
Interest expense ratios below 10 percent are preferred.
Farms in financial crisis have limited options. It’s important to plan to avoid financial problems and use analysis to indicate the progress and severity of financial problems. However, knowing what options are available can help chart a course of action to head off or resolve financial distress.
Cost cutting is often suggested as a solution to the income and cash flow problems.
The general rule is simply: “As long as the value of the output is greater than the cost of the input, continue to add input.”
The easiest way to apply this rule as you make decisions about your farm business is to ask: “Will it pay?”
You must guard against cutting cost without knowing how cost cutting will impact the productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness of your business.
One major input that you should not reduce during these tough times is the management of your farm business.
While this could be a time to liquidate some unproductive assets, others may have the same idea. This could result in depressed prices for machinery, equipment, and breeding livestock.
More importantly, as you sell these assets you may actually be liquidating your productive business.
Refinancing could lower interest rates and lengthen the repayment period.
You may also want to consider the refinancing option as an opportunity to roll operating debt into real estate debt. This option would change your debt structure and may offer the opportunity to reduce current cash flow obligations to meet operating debt payments.
Contact a lender to discuss refinancing options.
Stresses associated with financial crisis will cause farmers to ask, “What can I do to make more money?” Changes in the enterprise mix should be based on the relative profitability and associated risks.
Contact your local Extension educator or visit https://farmprofitability.osu.edu/ to learn more about the FINPACK farm financial analysis program and how it can help you.
Farm and off-farm alternatives. A simple acronym to guide the process of seeking “alternative” or “niche” markets is PRIMER.
The letters of PRIMER stand for Profitability, Resources, Information, Marketing, Enthusiasm, and Risk.
Use enterprise budgets to assess profit potential and determine what resources are currently available or will need to be acquired. Marketing is often key for alternative enterprises. Enthusiasm is important. Be sure you want to get into the enterprise, but also know why and when you should get out.
Finally, most “alternative” enterprises will be risky.
While not preferred, this may be the best option. Stresses associated with the impending failure of a business are extreme. In the ’80s, many farm communities lost friends and neighbors to suicide. Stress counselors are available. Confer with local physicians or the health department to find what help is available and use it.
On the financial side, if sale of the business is being considered, understand the tax implications.
Final suggestions for dealing with financial crisis: Don’t delay action. Take steps to avoid financial difficulty if possible. Keep communication channels open.
Our first reaction to adversity is often to hide. Make sure family members, partners, and creditors are kept abreast of the situation. Family members, partners, and lenders are more likely to help than condemn.
This is a collective not an individual crisis situation. Don’t feel you have to endure it alone.
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