Marjorie Randles understands farm businesses. Not only does she help her husband, Dave, and his brother, William, run a 50-cow dairy farm near Argyle, New York, that's been in the family since 1860, but also she runs the farm's cheese-making business, selling gourmet varieties to food stores. Oh, yes, and the Cornell University graduate with a degree in ag economics is a certified financial planner who has a consulting and tax preparation business (www.ThePracticalPlanner.com).
And what kind of software does this entrepreneurial woman use? Quicken for their start-up cheese business; QuickBooks for the dairy and tax preparation.
"Unless you have payroll, I think Quicken is a good one to start with for a farm business," she says. "If you need accrual adjustments, you should probably go to QuickBooks."
That's one software that Farm Credit system lenders in her area use as a source for their borrowers financial data, she says.
Randles is typical of many farmers. In the last few decades, off-the-shelf software packages from big companies like Intuit (the maker of Quicken) and Microsoft have driven the consolidation of scores of farm-specific software firms into just over a half dozen.
The survivors reviewed three years ago (see "Accounting software," page 35, Mid-March 2005 issue) are still around. Most have made at least minor changes in their products. And they have loyal customers.
Shelton, Nebraska, corn farmer and seed producer Randy Gangwish is among the producers who prefer a more expensive ag accounting package that can be used for managerial accounting, an approach used in manufacturing. He has tried another off-the-shelf business program, Microsoft Dynamics, for his farm and seed business, which has 15 full-time employees. In 2004, he switched those businesses to software sold by FBS Systems, Inc. (see "Patience earns results," page 30, October 2007 issue).
"The first thing people need to do before purchasing any software is to figure out what they want the software to do for them," says Charles Brown, director of farm business systems for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.
If all you want is a basic cash accounting system for taxes, Quicken or Microsoft Money is fine, he says. "They will do a good job, but they won't go much beyond that."
On the high end are accounting packages equipped to set up cost centers, profit centers, and to track costs of livestock and crops through a business cycle. Three firms (AgriSolutions, FBS Systems, and Red Wing) meet Farm Financial Standards Council's managerial accounting guidelines.
Brown, a Council member, calls them excellent programs. But for some, you almost need to be an accountant to reap all of the benefits.
In between are several ag-specific programs, which may not have complete managerial accounting but can be used for some aspects of it.
Managerial accounting may not be for everyone, he says. "But I do think that there are some pieces of it that smaller farms can use to get better information."