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Farm wife wonders how much involvement is needed

Agriculture.com Staff 07/06/2010 @ 5:03pm

My husband, Dick, and I have been working together in ag-related enterprises for almost 10 years.

We started out grain farming and were very successful. However, Dick is someone who always looks for new opportunities. Over the last few years, we have started four other businesses: livestock, manure application, custom drainage, and a farm supply business.

Dick made each new business work because he's so able and dedicated. But our growing diversity and what I see as fast-increasing risk is making me nervous.

I'm the bookkeeper and always write the checks. I don't have any business training, and I took on this responsibility mainly because there was no one else (Dick hates the books). Now, because of our growth, I think I need to be more involved in management and future decisions.

What should I be learning?

Also, how should we be evaluating our risk? And when does it all become too much?

Entrepreneurs raise a dusty trail as they gallop into the future, often leaving it to others to pave a road behind them.

P.J. is beginning to feel that Dick is dragging her along more quickly than she can pave. And given her lack of job training, she's probably right.

I suspect this business has grown a lot faster than its management and needs a number of roles filled: bookkeeper, finance manager, office manager, and so on.

If P.J. really wants to become more involved by overseeing these responsibilities, she should ask their accountant to help her understand financial and bookkeeping issues. Other challenges like running an office and managing personnel require knowledge that's better gained by not reinventing wheels.

She should look into workshops aimed specifically at teaching these things. University ag Extension programs are a good resource.

Maybe even better, they could hire an experienced office manager and P.J. could both oversee and learn from him or her.

I see a bigger issue, however. Given her second and third questions, it's likely P.J. is even more interested in having input on the business growth path and risks they face as a couple. Lack of control at this level quickly morphs into fear and anxiety.

Risk is something they share as a couple, and no matter how brilliant Dick is as an entrepreneur, if he skids off his path and over a cliff, P.J. has no choice but to go over with him.

Entrepreneurs usually come as couples. Farm husbands and wives are partners in fact, if not in law. Freewheeling, undisciplined pursuit of risk without regard for the concerns of one's life partner is unfair and potentially destructive.

P.J. and Dick (despite his dislike for the books) should study their ventures together with their accountant. They need to learn the meaning and implications of various balance sheet ratios like debt to equity and return on assets, and to understand present and future cash flows.

Discipline like this doesn't shackle genius; it guides and empowers it. It also can secure a marriage.

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