Increasing Farm Efficiency During Challenging Times

It’s no secret that for many producers the past few years have been challenging. The days of $7 corn and $15 beans are more than five years in the rearview mirror and it takes a sharper pencil these days to be profitable and maintain a viable farming operation.

Farm efficiency can be obtained in many different ways. A good farm tax expert can be extremely valuable.  Some farmers focus on being better marketers.  Others key in on reducing costs of inputs and understanding government programs. Using new technologies can help an operator better understand how resources are being used.  Working with a banker to effectively manage capital is very important to other operators.

Few farmers, however, have the time or resources necessary to study all of the areas where efficiencies can be gained. But in these times of lower margins, it’s worth taking a look at areas you might have ignored over the past few years or strategies that you may need to take a second look at.

Technology

Ag technology has come a long way in the past five years, and in general is now more affordable to more producers. Seth Robinson of AgriVision Equipment Group (John Deere) in Winterset, Iowa, says their 3i service often more than pays for the cost of the program for many farmers.

“The 3i program divides your land into three zones from high producing to low producing land and we’ve seen situations where we can raise production in all zones because the data the system collects can allow decisions like planting rates and fertilizing rates to be made on a micro basis. We price 3i on a per bushel basis according to the number of services the farmer wants help with, so we are tied to the growing season and varying conditions, just like the grower.”

Granular is another digital ag solution that consists of products that help farms track their inputs, outputs, crop planning, financial forecasts, and workflow. Their Farm Management Software (FMS) helps farmers understand profitability by field by organizing the numerous data points on the farm.

Dakota Hoben, Customer Success Manager with Granular says, “We typically find farms that are 2,000 acres and above really value the product. But we can work with farms anywhere from 1,000 – 50,000 acres.”

The software is priced on a per acre basis for about $3 and includes software, customer success manager, and support.

In today’s world, time is money – especially during planting and harvest seasons. Applications using smartphones can reduce much of the time it takes to resolve issues. Apps like AgriSync allow farmers to connect with their local, trusted agribusiness consultants for help adopting and implementing new technologies.

Broad based technology has also entered the world of ag finance. Steven Johnson, Iowa State University Extension Farm Management Specialist, said in a recent farmer meeting to Farm Credit Services members in Red Oak, Iowa, that producers who are customers of Farm Credit Services should consider using their AgriPoint technology to move money between accounts, pay bills, wire money and make payments. AgriPoint also offers tools to create balance sheets, cash flows, what-if scenarios, and the ability to apply checks as payments on your desktop or mobile device.

Marketing

Although no one has a crystal ball when it comes to selling commodities, there are ways to certainly put the odds in your favor. Johnson of Iowa State University said understanding your localized historical basis information can add many cents per bushel to the average selling price of corn and beans when part of an overall marketing strategy.  He believes better days are ahead, demand for animal protein will increase demand for grain and current conditions could represent a trough of the 5-7 year cycle.

Tax Strategies

In 1935, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Judge Learned Hand said, “Anyone may arrange his affairs so that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which best pays the treasury. There is not even a patriotic duty to increase one’s taxes.” The U.S. tax code offers numerous opportunities for those in agriculture to use legal means to reduce their taxes. Karen Havens, a CPA in Greenfield, Iowa, who caters to farm clients, believes you can be creative while being ethical and legal.

“Farming has progressed to where business knowledge is essential, from choosing the right business structure to accurate records, tax planning, asset acquisition, cash flows and dealing with lenders. Farmers need to be aware of various tax strategies available to choose strategies that might benefit his particular circumstances, such as retirement funding, employees with employee health benefits, the Domestic Production Deduction, estate or succession planning, as well as other ideas.   Finding knowledgeable professionals to help navigate the maze of options is critical.”

Other strategies that can serve double-duty as both cost-reducers and tax-savers for specific situations include establishing your own captive insurance companies for property casualty coverage, creating conservation easements through land trusts to potentially generate both income tax credits and deductions, and for farmers close to retirement starting cash balance plans to create deductions, postpone taxes and fund retirement. These strategies are not new and not exclusive to agriculture but will most likely grow in popularity as some farmers get closer to retirement and the average farm operation continues to grow.

Government Programs

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), through its Farm Service Agency (FSA) division, offers many programs designed to aid farmers in becoming more efficient and potentially improve profitability. Producers are typically fairly well versed on the more popular FSA programs such as the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs that were authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill. Agriculture Loss Coverage-County (ARC-CO) provides revenue loss coverage at the county level. ARC-CO payments are issued when the actual county crop revenue of a covered commodity is less than the ARC-CO guarantee for the covered commodity.  Price Loss Coverage (PLC) program payments are issued when the effective price of a covered commodity is less than the respective reference price for that commodity. The effective price equals the higher of the market year average price (MYA) or the national average loan rate for the covered commodity.

Another popular FSA program is the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). CRP is a land conservation program administered by FSA.  In exchange for a yearly rental payment, farmers enrolled in the program agree to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and plant species that will improve environmental health and quality.

Beyond that, there are other programs available that are less well known, such as Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP), which provides financial assistance to producers of noninsurable crops when low yields, loss of inventory, or prevented planting occur due to natural disasters.

In addition, FSA has many different types of farms loans, such as Guaranteed Farm Loan Programs that help family farmers and ranchers obtain loans from USDA-approved commercial lenders at reasonable terms to buy farmland or finance agricultural production. There are beginning farmer loan programs, minority and women farmer loan programs and emergency farm loans.

Insurance

No one relishes the idea of purchasing insurance, yet there have never been more assets at risk in farming than there is today. Finding effective insurance strategies is a must, and finding efficient ways of paying for insurance is also critical.

“To be the most efficient with their coverage farmers really need to sit down with their agent on an annual basis and review coverage limits,” said Jamie Travis of Hometown Insurance in Creston, Iowa. “I advise my farmers to take risk where they can afford to and save premium.  Many times farmers do not have adequate coverage for their liability exposure.  Umbrellas are relatively inexpensive and they provide coverage in areas where farmers cannot afford to take risk.  If someone is injured or killed as a result of a farmer’s negligence, their responsibility to the injured party could be significantly more than their liability limit.  Adequate umbrella coverage can avoid being forced to sell assets in order to indemnify an injured party.”

In summary

According to futurist Jim Carroll (www.jimcarroll.com) estimates are that the world population will increase nearly 50 percent to almost 9 billion by 2050.  As a result, he predicts a great future for agriculture. To meet the demand, he predicts everyone in agriculture will need to be more efficient.  Producers will have to continue to focus on smarter, better, more efficient strategies in order to stay competitive and thrive.  To do that, they’ll need to seek out professionals in many disciplines to keep them up to date on trends and strategies that can help them stay efficient, improve their profitability and achieve their long-term goals.

Mike Moffitt is a Chartered Financial Consultant and founder of Cornerstone Financial Group with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Creston, Iowa. Using his strategic partner network of professionals in accounting, legal and other key disciplines, he works closely with farmers and ag business owners on strategies that seek to help them grow their business and/or prepare for retirement. He can be reached at 641-782-5577.  Securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC.  Investment advice offered through Advantage Investment Management, a registered investment advisor.  Cornerstone Financial Group and Advantage Investment Management are separate entities from LPL Financial.  Other companies and their services mentioned in this article are not affiliated with LPL Financial and Cornerstone Financial Group.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax or legal advice. We suggest that you discuss your specific situation with a qualified tax or legal advisor.  There is no assurance that the techniques and strategies discussed are suitable for all individuals or will yield positive outcomes.

 

White House Proposes Changes to Retirement Plans

A look at some of the ideas contained in the 2017 federal budget
Provided by Michael Moffitt

Will workplace retirement plans be altered in the near future? The White House will propose some changes to these plans in the 2017 federal budget, with the goal of making such programs more accessible. Here are some of the envisioned changes.

Pooled employer-sponsored retirement programs. This concept could save small businesses money. Current laws permit multi-employer retirement plans, but the companies involved must be similar in nature. The White House wants to lift that restriction.1,2

In theory, allowing businesses across disparate industries to join pooled retirement plans could result in significant savings. Administrative expenses could be reduced, as well as the costs of compliance.

Would governmental and non-profit workplaces also be allowed to pool their retirement plans under the proposal? There is no word about that at this point.

This pooled retirement plan concept would offer employees new degrees of portability for their savings. A worker leaving a job at a participating firm in the pool would be able to retain his or her retirement account after taking a job with another of the participating firms. Along these lines, the White House will also propose new ways to make it easier for workers to monitor and reconcile multiple workplace retirement accounts.2,3

Scant details have emerged about how these pooled plans would be created or governed, or how much implementing them would cost taxpayers. Congress will be asked for $100 million in the new budget draft to test new and more portable forms of retirement savings accounts. Presumably, many more details will surface when the proposed federal budget becomes public in February.2,3

Automatic enrollment in IRAs. In the new federal budget draft, the Obama administration will require businesses with more than 10 employees and no retirement savings program to enroll their workers in IRAs. This idea has been included in past federal budget drafts, but it has yet to survive bipartisan negotiations – and it may not this time. Recently, the myRA retirement account was created through executive action to try and promote this objective.1,3

A lower bar to retirement plan participation for part-time employees. Another proposal within the new budget would allow anyone who has worked for an employer for more than 500 hours a year for the past three years to participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan.2

A bigger tax break for businesses starting retirement plans. Eligible employers can receive a federal tax credit for inaugurating a retirement plan – a credit for 50% of what the IRS deems the employer’s “ordinary and necessary eligible startup costs,” up to a maximum of $500. That credit (which is part of the general business credit) may be claimed for each of the first three years that the plan is in place, and a business may even elect to begin claiming it in the tax year preceding the tax year that the plan goes into effect. The White House wants the IRS to boost this annual credit from $500 to $1,500.2,4

Also, businesses could receive an annual federal tax credit of up to $500 merely for automatically enrolling workers in their retirement plans. As per the above credit, they could claim this for three straight years.2

What are the odds of these proposals making it into the final 2017 federal budget? The odds may be long. Through the decades, federal budget drafts have often contained “blue sky” visions characteristic of this or that presidency, ideas that are eventually compromised or jettisoned. That may be the case here. If the above concepts do become law, they may change the face of retirement plan participation and administration.

Michael Moffitt may be reached at phone 641-782-5577 or email: mikem@cfgiowa.com
Website: www.cfgiowa.com

Michael Moffitt is a Registered Representative with and Securities are offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investments advice offered through Advantage Investment Management (AIM), a registered investment advisor. Cornerstone Financial Group and AIM are separate entities from LPL Financial.

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Citations.
1 – nytimes.com/2016/01/26/us/obama-to-urge-easing-401-k-rules-for-small-businesses.html [1/26/16]
2 – tinyurl.com/je5uj3r [1/26/16]
3 – bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2016-01-26/obama-seeks-to-expand-401-k-use-by-letting-employers-pool-plans [1/26/16]
4 – irs.gov/Retirement-Plans/Retirement-Plans-Startup-Costs-Tax-Credit [8/18/15]

Using CRUTs & CRATs to Sell Your Business Interest

These estate planning tools may also help in exit planning.

Discover a pair of underappreciated exit planning vehicles. Charitable remainder unit trusts (CRUTs) and charitable remainder annuity trusts (CRATs) are commonly seen as estate planning tools. What frequently goes unseen is their value in exit planning for business owners.

Does it look like you will sell your company to a third party? Do your “second act” or “third act” goals include financial independence, philanthropy and leaving significant wealth for your heirs? If you find yourself answering “yes” to these questions, a CRUT or CRAT may help you address those objectives and potentially enhance your outcome.

CRUTs & CRATs are variations of charitable remainder trusts (CRTs). A CRT is an irrevocable tax-exempt trust that you can fund with highly appreciated C corporation stock (or optionally, other types of highly appreciated assets). Since CRTs are irrevocable, they are difficult to undo.

How do you sell your ownership interest through a CRUT or CRAT? As the trust creator (or grantor), you donate said C corp stock to the CRUT or CRAT. Because the trust is tax-exempt, it can sell those highly appreciated C corp shares without triggering immediate capital gains tax.1

The CRUT or CRAT sells your ownership shares to the outside buyer of your company, and it becomes your tax-exempt retirement fund. It invests the cash realized from the sale of your ownership shares in either fixed-income or growth securities; it provides you with recurring payments out of the trust principal, which occur for X number of years or for the duration of your life (or even longer). Payout is mostly fixed – once determined, the percentage of the trust which the annuity is tied cannot be changed and you cannot access the principal. The payments can even go to people other than yourself – they can optionally go to your parents, they could go to your grandkids.1,2

You are offered another tax break as well. You can take a one-time charitable income tax deduction for the value of the donation used to fund the trust (i.e., a tax deduction applicable in the current tax year). This demands an appraisal of the highly appreciated assets being donated to the CRUT or CRAT, obviously. The deduction amount also depends on calculations using IRS life expectancy tables, the term of the trust, interest rates, and payout schedules and amounts.1,3

On one level, a CRUT or CRAT is an agreement you make with the IRS. In exchange for all these tax perks, you agree to give 10% or more of the initial value of the CRUT or CRAT to a qualified charity or non-profit organization. Many CRUT or CRAT grantors intend to leave no more than that to charity.2

When the grantor passes away, a last tax break occurs. While 100% of the trust assets now become part of his or her taxable estate, the estate may take a deduction for the remainder interest that goes to the qualified charity or non-profit.3

Some CRUT and CRAT grantors strategize to offset the eventual gifting of 10% (or more) of trust assets. They have the beneficiaries of the CRUT or CRAT fund an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT). When the grantor passes away, they receive insurance proceeds sufficient to replace the “lost” wealth. Since the ILIT owns the life insurance policy, the life insurance payout isn’t included in the taxable estate of the deceased and it isn’t subject to transfer taxes.3

What’s the fundamental difference between a CRUT & a CRAT? The difference concerns the recurring payments out of the trust to the grantor. In a CRUT, those payments represent a percentage of the fair market value of the principal of the trust (and that principal is revalued annually). There is investment risk involved in CRUTs. Should the value of the underlying investment go down significantly, your annuity income can go down as well. In a CRAT, they represent a fixed percentage of the initial value of the principal.1

Older business owners may find the CRAT is a more appealing choice, while younger business owners may be more attracted to the CRUT. Yearly distributions from a CRUT must amount to at least 5% and no more than 50% of the trust principal revalued annually. Yearly distributions from a CRAT must come to at least 5% but no more than 50% of the initial value of the donated assets.1,3

Can an owner fund a CRUT or CRAT with S corp shares? No. A charitable remainder trust can’t serve as a shareholder in an S corp, so if you donate S corp stock to a CRT, there goes your S corp status. It should also be noted that C corp stock subject to recourse debt can’t go into a CRT.1

Are you interested in learning more? Establishing a trust can be complicated. It is important to talk to a legal, financial, or tax professional about the potential of CRUTs and CRATs. What you learn may lead you toward a better outcome for your business.

Mike Moffitt may be reached at ph. 641-782-5577 or email: mikem@cfgiowa.com.

Website: www.cfgiowa.com

Michael Moffitt is a Registered Representative with and Securities are offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investments advice offered through Advantage Investment Management (AIM), a registered investment advisor. Cornerstone Financial Group and AIM are separate entities from LPL Financial.

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Citations.

1 – arne-co.com/selling-business-using-crt/ [11/18/14]

2 – forbes.com/sites/ashleaebeling/2013/08/14/charitable-shelter-how-cruts-cut-capital-gains-tax/ [8/14/13]

3 – bbt.com/bbtdotcom/wealth/retirement-and-planning/trusts-and-estates/charitable-remainder-trusts.page [11/18/14]

 

 

 

Is now the time to sell your business?

The baby boomers have made quite a splash on society throughout their lives. As babies, they impacted diaper and baby food sales. In early childhood they wanted Hula Hoops, Tinker Toys and Superballs. When teenage years hit, they put McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken on the map. The sheer number of boomers led to massive increases in roads, housing, schools (including colleges and universities) and social programs. And since there weren’t jobs for all of them once they hit working age, millions of them started their own companies.
Now they are close to retirement. Economist and demographic expert Robert Avery of Cornell University predicts baby boomers will transfer $10 trillion to later generations, and the vast majority of this wealth is held as stock in privately-owned businesses. During the next 10-15 years, he estimates that more than 70 percent of these companies will change hands.
Are they ready to sell? The 2013 State of Owners Readiness Survey sponsored by the Exit Planning Institute (of which I’m a member) found that 83% of owners surveyed have no written transition plan. Two-thirds are not familiar with all of their exit options. While 56% felt they had a good idea of the business value, only 18% had done a formal valuation. Sadly, 49% of the owners of these privately-held businesses had done no transition planning at all.
That probably explains why 70% of Merger and Acquisition (M&A) professionals said business owners are minimally or not prepared to sell or transfer, according to a study conducted by the Alliance of Mergers and Acquisitions Advisors. As a result, many businesses do not sell as a going concern. Rather, the assets are sold and the business ceases to exist.
So if you are a boomer, you are close to retiring and you’ve done no exit planning preparation, now might NOT be the best time to sell. However, it’s a GOOD time to get your transition plan started. Because of the large number of businesses that will be on the market in the coming years, buyers will have ample choice in which businesses look attractive to them. What makes a business attractive to a buyer? Key on that list would be a stable management team (there’s little value in a business that can’t operate if the key person retires), audited financials (doing the books yourself may save you some money, but a potential buyer wants verification from a reputable outsider), written policies and procedures that help ensure consistency and reliability within the business, a diversified customer base, an attractive facility, profits with a strong and growing cash flow, and a good long-term growth strategy.
So a little planning on the front end could mean substantially more value at transition time. Since no single professional can be an expert in all areas, a team approach usually works best. That team often includes an attorney, a CPA, a Financial Advisor and/or Estate Planner, possibly an Investment Banker, and an insurance professional. A specially-trained exit planner with a designation such as a CEPA (Certified Exit Planning Advisor) may also have one of the above-mentioned credentials and would be a good individual to start the process, coordinate the other team members and start the initial fact-finding process. Often, the goal is to start early enough before transition (3-5 years) so that the business has time to improve on those items that add the most to a company’s value for when the owner is ready to ride off into the sunset.
Michael Moffitt may be reached at phone:(641)-782-5577 or e-mail: mikem@cfgiowa.com website: cfgiowa.com
Michael Moffitt is a Registered Representative with and Securities are offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investments advice offered through Advantage Investment Management (AIM), a registered investment advisor. Cornerstone Financial Group and AIM are separate entities from LPL Financial.