Talking to the experts

TAKING ADVANTAGE OF THE KNOWLEDGE AVAILABLE FROM ACCREDITED PROFESSIONALS

farming is increasingly complex, and even top farmers – although they attend seminars and meetings on an ongoing basis – can’t do it all.

“Accredited farm advisors have specific professional expertise and keep completely up-to-date with their slice of the industry as well as the overall picture, and that’s why choosing to work with one is wise,” says Liz Robertson.

Robertson is Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Farm Advisors (CAFA), a non-profit organization dedicated to assisting farm businesses by increasing the skills and knowledge of farm advisors. “We define our membership as anyone who’s in a professional advisory capacity to a farming family or farm business,” she says. “Many of our members farm, grew up on farms or have a spouse who farms, and therefore have a personal stake in the industry. They all have a passionate appreciation for and understanding of what agriculture is all about.”

lawyer and family mediator
One advisor farmers turn to for many different reasons throughout their farming career is a lawyer.

“As a lawyer,” says Bill Lockington, with LLF Lawyers LLP in Peterborough, “I work with farm families in four principal areas – business law, real estate and financing, dispute resolution services and estate and personal planning.” As an accredited Family Business Advisor and Mediator, Lockington says developing effective succession plans or exit strategies for family farm businesses is his main area of work.

Lockington says independent third party advisors “bring an unbiased perspective to what can often be an emotional and polarizing exercise.” He remembers one situation where he assisted a father and three sons all running one farm. “Personality differences between two brothers and their spouses threatened the continuation of the farm business,” he says. “As a mediator, I facilitated meetings to examine expectations and designed a workable plan.”  The outcome was a new ‘divisional’ organization, giving more independence and accountability to all parties, minimizing overlap of responsibilities and recognizing both interests and aptitudes.

chartered accountant
Another important farm advisor that most farmers are well acquainted with is an accountant.

 “A Chartered Accounting firm offers a wide spectrum of services to farm businesses,” says Brent VanParys, a CA with VanParys, Micacchi, Shippey & Warnick LLP in Woodstock. “Obviously financial statements, tax planning and implementing more formalized accounting systems are the most common, but we also offer guidance into business ownership structure, estate planning, and even personnel recruitment.” In addition, firms such as VanParys’s have in-depth knowledge of how to best use funding programs such as AgriStability.

While he acknowledges that farmers study things like farm succession extensively, VanParys says, “we are there to take our clients through a process where they will see a common picture, what the next generation will need to take on their evolving roles and options to sustain the older generation.” As a CAFA-trained family council facilitator, VanParys remembers helping a family with succession planning and says “Everyone learned a great deal. Even their 13 year-old participated at a high level.”

banker
There is no doubt that a farm business requires the services of a trained and qualified banker. When farmers think of bankers, says Ed Kneeshaw, an Agricultural Account Manager with TD Canada Trust in Alliston, they primarily think of people who can provide credit for things such as mortgages, term loans and operating loans. “As an agricultural lender, this is indeed my area of expertise,” he says, “but I have access to other professionals within the bank who provide other services such as investment advice, succession planning and Foreign Exchange Services, to name just a few.”

Kneeshaw says the value of bankers lies in their ability to listen closely to farmers and then offer professional advice on how to structure debt to match cash flow and save interest, which potential   investments are best and alternative financing requirements. “I was a farmer  for 20 years prior to deciding to enter the Financial Services Industry,” says Kneeshaw. “Working with someone like me, with insight into the unique needs of the industry, is important.”

insurance provider
Nancy Ackert is an independent insurance broker based in Kincardine. “Insurance providers offer a huge slate of competitive protective tools,” she says. “Once the needs of the client are determined, we discuss tools best suited to these needs.” Ackert often uses schematics, working with the family until an understanding of their requirements is reached. “Some of the newer living benefits are long-term care and critical illness,” she notes.

Ackert strongly encourages farmers to pursue their plans with the help of someone like her. “When a plan is in place, you know that if something happens, things will be okay,” she says. “Nothing is more rewarding than working with a family – to see, feel and experience the planning process with them.” She also cautions families not to wait: “A lot of tools are hinged to age, health and lifestyle, and waiting may limit your options for affordable solutions.”

input advisor
In addition to utilizing advisors for the financial and legal aspect of agriculture, farmers can benefit from seeking the help of an expert on the agronomy side as well.

The value in hiring a crop advisor is in accessing the best solutions, says Phil Esseltine, owner of AgroSpray Ltd. in Woodstock. “Our advisors offer recommendations on how much to apply, when to apply and how to apply nutrients and other inputs, so that benefits are maximized, unnecessary costs are avoided and impact on the environment is minimized,” he says.

Companies such as AgroSpray offer educational seminars as well. “We offer workshops on soil nutrition to assist farmers to better understand the relationship between nutrients, the soil and the crop,” says Esseltine. “Growers really value the knowledge we provide. It makes them more self-sufficient and confident when making decisions and discussing their options.”

putting it all together
With the complexities of farming forever growing, there is little doubt that successful farms will increasingly seek the advice of farm experts. Getting to know the experts at your disposal may help increase your efficiency and improve your bottom line. •