(J.M.) WHAT ACCOUNTING SYSTEMS AND SOFTWARE ARE AVAILABLE FOR FARM BUSINESSES?
(A.G.) The majority of farm businesses have transitioned to a desktop or cloud version of an accounting and financial management system. QuickBooks, Sage 50, and Farm Credit Canada’s AgExpert are among the most popular programs being used today. The most popular system is QuickBooks (desktop and online versions), with approximately 80 per cent of our clients using this program. QuickBooks is widely popular with many types of businesses, not just farming. It is easy to use, can be easily integrated into your own accountant’s system, and offers extensive support. Sage 50 offers a range of accountancy and payroll products for small and medium businesses and provides a solid software option. The AgExpert program is also a great specialty program, offering farmers a few more ag-specific options like inventory.
WHAT FEATURES SHOULD FARMERS LOOK FOR WHEN CONSIDERING ACCOUNTING SOFTWARE?
Internet connectivity should be the first consideration for farm software programs. If a farm’s connection isn’t reliable, be sure to opt for a desktop version of a program versus an online or cloud system.
If you are upgrading or making a program change, talk to your accountant about their experience with programs. Ask them what programs they are most familiar with, if there are pain points you should know about, what experiences other farm clients have had, and if you can ask them questions about the program as you work through it.
Automation is something else to consider. Anything that can automate a manual task like payroll, organizing receipts or make it easier to share information with your bookkeeper or accountant is helpful. For example, some programs allow you to take a photo of a receipt and automatically file it under a specific expense category. Many of today’s systems also allow you to automate payroll, and while that is a significant perk and time saver, automation still requires regular checks and balances. I always advise clients to review their books every month for accuracy, especially if they are adopting new accounting software or have automated payroll. It is easier to fix problems as they occur rather than at year end when small errors can add up.
Support is important, especially for someone adopting a new system. Before investing in a new program, find out what kind of support is available from the program itself and your accountant. Your accountant should be able to provide some level of technical assistance, answer questions, and help with the transition. Support is also essential when it comes to learning how to use a new system, so before you invest, find out if training is available, and ultimately, ask yourself if this is a system you can get comfortable using.
A seamless implementation into your farm business is essential. When evaluating a new system, be sure it will do what you want it to and fit your farm business needs. And, when it comes to evaluating the cost, do not forget about your time and the investment required to learn how to use a new program. If you are not using the program as efficiently as possible, make sure to invest in the proper training or ask questions through your program support or from your accountant.
CAN YOU OFFER ANY TIPS FOR WORKING EFFECTIVELY WITH YOUR FARM ACCOUNTANT?
Remember, your accountant is a member of your farm business team. Whenever you are considering making a change in your business, from investing in new accounting software to deciding whether to lease or buy a piece of equipment, please reach out to them. They are there to help you manage your farm business and can often provide advice that can help you when making a key decision and the resulting impact on your year-end finances. I always advise clients to be proactive rather than reactive, and open communication is key to making that happen. Work with your accountant as part of your farm management team, ask questions and make the time to check in more than once a year to review your business and plan ahead. Investing in or upgrading a farm accounting software system is a great conversation starter with your accountant that could lead to new business planning strategies! •