Professional groups, Farm Bureaus offer directories of service providers and specialties
By TIM HEARDEN
Farmers and ranchers seeking advice from a lawyer, accountant, financial planner or other professional should find one who knows about agriculture, experts say.
As laws become more complex, many producers are turning to professionals to help them develop business plans, invest money, save on taxes or avoid legal trouble.
Professional associations and some local Farm Bureaus offer directories of accountants, financial planners and other service providers and their specialties.
Where does one find the best? Start by asking your neighbors who they use, said Larry Forero, a University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor in Redding, Calif.
"It's reasonable and fair for me to say that agriculture is different enough that you've got to find somebody who specializes in agriculture," Forero said. "There's just a whole set of rules that your professional needs to understand."
Shelley Macdonald, an appraiser for Northern California Farm Credit in Red Bluff, Calif., agreed.
"The best thing is they need to find a professional who understands agriculture and understands their operation," she said. "That's usually the first thing we tell them ... to make sure they're dealing with somebody that understands their business."
Often when seeking financial advice, it helps to have an idea of "what you are trying to accomplish," said Greg House, co-owner of House Agricultural Consultants in Davis, Calif.
"If you don't know what you're trying to accomplish, you're never going to get there," he said. "You have to start off with a plan, what you want."
As part of that, a farmer should decide whether the operation is a hobby or a business that's expected to make money, Forero said. Then a business model could determine what makes the most money and how the operation should be structured, he said.
Once a farmer has an idea of the type of services he wants, the next step could be to network with others who may have already used some of those services, said Kari Dodd, manager of the Tehama County Farm Bureau in Red Bluff, Calif.
Tehama's Farm Bureau includes a business directory in its newsletter with listings of members who are financial advisers, lawyers, real estate brokers and other specialists.
"They know that that professional has an interest in them already, and that's one step closer to having an understanding," Dodd said.
Farmers and ranchers can also find directories online. For example, the Denver-based American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers offers a national listing of appraisers, farm managers and agricultural consultants who meet the organization's standards.
Listed professionals must have taken a series of courses and tests and become accredited, said Cheryl Cooley, the organization's manager of technology, communications and meetings.
Prospective clients "would know that they are getting someone who has an organization behind them, and if there are problems people can contact us," Cooley said. "We have an ethics committee that reviews any complaints."
Some producers have university degrees in business and handle many of their own fiscal affairs, Forero said.
Chris McArthur, who has a business degree from California State University-Chico, handles payroll and other financial duties for her family's livestock business and farm supply store in McArthur, Calif.
But as much expertise as you think you have, it's still best to seek outside input from someone who knows about your type of operation, McArthur said.
"I think it's very important ... to develop a network of people who are giving you input with regard to different ideas and changes in the market," McArthur said.
"One of the most detrimental things I've seen happen to farmers and ranching businesses is that they get too closed in and don't get outside input about investment advice, payroll and ... what they're doing," she said.
"You can really tell the difference in the operations that diversify and really seek out outside information on a regular and consistent basis to kind of feed their own heads," she said.