Financial Planning and Business Decision Making

CISA’s Financial Management Tipsheets

The following are tipsheets and resources for farm recordkeeping and financial analysis developed by or in collaboration with CISA. They are based off of previous workshops and research on financial management.

CISA logo for resourcesFarm Business Decision Making – Lessons from Farm Owners
Farm business presenters at CISA’s 2013 workshop series on financial recordkeeping and business decision making provided valuable insight about how they track information, figure out what’s working and what’s not, and make decisions on their farms.

CISA logo for resourcesFinancial Statements
Financial statements are vital to measuring the health of your business and can help with communication between partners, separating family finances from farm finances, and can serve as legal documents.

CISA logo for resourcesRaising Capital
Capital is necessary whether your goal is to start a business, expand your business, improve efficiencies within your business, or increase wealth, and this guide is designed to help you identify sources of capital and make smart decisions about accessing it.

CISA logo for resourcesTips on Receiving a Loan
Factors to consider when taking out a loan, and the primary factors that a potential lender will consider when analyzing your loan application.

CISA logo for resources Advanced Financial Workbook (Excel Download)
This Financial Workbook was originally developed by the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board’s Farm and Forest Viability Program as a tool to assist farms with financial record keeping and analysis. This is an updated version edited and adapted in collaboration with CISA. It includes the three key financial statements: the balance sheet, the income statement and the cashflow projection, as well as several tabs that can be used to assess the financial impacts of farm decision making options and/or to assist in creating the detailed data to inform the three key statements.

This tool will be most effective with farmers and service providers who have some comfort with spreadsheets and basic knowledge of farm business accounting and recordkeeping. 

If you’d like assistance in using this tool please reach out to CISA or directly to Rose Wilson at 802-649-1000 (landline);; .

Making it Happen: Profitability and Success

Our partners on CISA’s 2016 winter workshop series, The Carrot Project, have put together an excellent series of resources, case studies, workshops and webinars designed to help farmers understand and strategically implement a variety of financial management tools in order to increase the financial strength of their operations. Find these resources here.

Resources for Farm Business Recordkeeping and Enterprise Analysis

Farm records are essential for filing your taxes or applying for a loan, but you are missing a useful tool if you are not also using them to inform your own decision making. The challenge is to figure out what information you need to track to answer the questions specific to your business, and to determine what tracking and analysis tools and systems work for you. Use the resources below to understand what information you can gain from good recordkeeping and to set up a paper or computer system. See our “Financial Statements” tipsheet to understand different ways to present and use financial information about your farm. To learn how other farmers integrate recordkeeping and decision making into the day-to-day life of their farm, read our “Farm Business Decision Making – Lessons from Farm Owners” tipsheet.

The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook: A Complete Guide to Managing Finances, Crops, and Staff – and Making a Profit, by Richard Wiswall, 2009.
Comprehensive, highly readable, and practical guide with a companion CD that contains Excel spreadsheets and templates for enterprise analysis and more. Richard’s workshops help farmers evaluate where in their business they are making and losing money. They’ve been very well received when we’ve offered them at CISA. We recommend this book regardless of your production practices. Available from Chelsea Green Publishing.

Farmer’s Guide to Business Structures
In this comprehensive guide developed by Farm Commons, learn all about the business entity options available to farmers: sole proprietorships/partnerships, LLC’s, C corporations, S corporations, nonprofits, and co-ops.

Choosing a Business Entity Flowchart
Use this flowchart to help you narrow down the business entity options available for your farm operation. This resource is part of the more comprehensive guide from Farm Commons above.

FAQ: Building the Right Business Structure for Your Farm
This FAQ from Farm Commons covers the questions farmers often have when moving through the process of creating a business structure.

Farmers’ Guide to Business Structures
Understanding the myriad business structures available and choosing the best one for your business can be a daunting task. To help make it easier, Farm Commons, in partnership with SARE and the USDA, has published “Farmers’ Guide to Business Structures”, written for the non-lawyer prospective or established business owner in any industry.

Partial Budgeting for Agricultural Businesses
Penn State
Partial budgeting is a useful decision making framework that compares the costs and benefits of choices faced by small businesses such as “Should I change technology?”, “Should I specialize?”, “Should I lease or buy?”. This guide will help you approach these kinds of questions in a more informed manner.

Agricultural Cost of Production Calculator
Penn State
An easy-to-use and flexible tool for comparing the cost of production for multiple blocks and fruit types on a farm. This considers annual direct costs (labor, fertilizer, irrigation) and indirect costs (taxes, insurance, utilities).

Bookkeeping, Budgeting, and Tax Recordkeeping Resources for Beginning Farmers
Tipsheets from farm advocate and trainer Poppy Davis. Subject areas include using Quickbooks, accounting, bookkeeping, cash flow budgeting, managing debt, and income taxes for farmers.

The Carrot Project
On its “Resources for Farmers” page, this website offers an expansive list of resources pertaining to financial management, including several fillable templates for basic financial statements. The Carrot Project works to provide financing programs to small-scale farms by partnering and leveraging the assets of community-based lenders, socially responsible investors, farm-support organizations, and farmers.

USDA Farm Service Agency’s Farm Loan Programs
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) makes and guarantees loans to family farmers and ranchers to promote, build and sustain family farms in support of a thriving agricultural economy. See this fact sheet for more information.

Bookkeeping and Financial Planning Software
Quicken and QuickBooks are personal and small business accounting software to help track finances, write checks, invoice customers, and track inventory. Different versions have different capacities, so you can select according to your needs. FinPack financial-planning and analysis software helps you use your farm financial records to evaluate and analyze your financial situation. While most often used by ag professionals and lenders, there is a personal version which can be purchased outright or by a one-year subscription. The Carrot Project has also provided a Financial Calendar Tool to help you create a personalized financial management calendar for your farm.

Online Farm Recordkeeping Tools
Depending on your farm business, you may find specific farm-planning and record-keeping tools useful. Cog Pro was developed for record keeping related to organic certification. AgSquared includes tools for crop planning and mapping. CSAware and Small Farm Central focus on CSA member management, orders, and scheduling. CSAware is adding additional financial tools, and Small Farm Central also offers website templates and email list management.

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    This material is based upon work supported by USDA/NIFA under Award Number 2010-49200-06201.

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