By Kelly L. Tobin, EA, MBA
Low commodity prices may cause some farm operations to incur net operating losses in 2016. When farm expenses exceed farm income, and the resulting net loss exceeds all other types of income such as wages, interest, dividends, capital gains, rent, etc., a net operating loss (NOL) likely exists. In this case, a special computation must be done to compute the NOL, which can be carried back to obtain refunds of taxes paid in prior years and/or carried forward to reduce taxable income in future years.
NOL's incurred by non-farm businesses can be carried back for two years to obtain refunds of taxes paid, and forward for 20 years until fully absorbed. However, a farm net operating loss can be carried back five years to obtain refunds of taxes paid and forward 20 years until fully absorbed. Again, a special computation must be made to determine how much of the net operating loss is absorbed each year and what amount is available to use in the next succeeding year.
A taxpayer with a farm NOL may irrevocably elect to forego the five year carryback period and do a two year carryback, or can elect to forego the entire carryback period and only carry the loss forward. If there was little to no income tax paid in the past five years, it makes sense to forego the carryback period. The NOL elections are very important and must be made on a timely filed return or an amended return filed by the extended due date of the original return, which is Oct. 15 for a calendar year return. If the election to forego the carryback period is not made, the NOL must be carried back within three years of the NOL year, or the taxpayer could lose the NOL.
There are also special NOL carryback and carry forward rules for NOL's incurred in a federally declared disaster area. A three year carryback period is available for NOL's incurred in such an area. Therefore, a farm with a NOL incurred in a federally declared disaster area, is eligible for a five, three or two year carryback. The carryforward period remains 20 years. Of course, once an NOL is fully absorbed in either a carryback or carryforward year, it cannot be used in another year.
Except for C corporations, the NOL is computed on the individual's 1040 income tax return. Pass-through entities such as partnerships, LLC's taxed as a partnership, and S corporations do not compute the NOL. These entities simply pass-through the income and expenses to the owner's return where the NOL is computed. C corporations, which are a separate taxable entity, compute their own NOL's.
When a farm NOL is incurred, it is very important to analyze the tax situation in the prior five years. The tax benefit of a NOL depends on each year's marginal income tax bracket. The higher the marginal tax bracket, the more valuable the NOL becomes. NOL carrybacks and carryforwards can only be used to reduce federal and state income taxes. NOL's do not affect self-employment tax (social security for self-employed individuals). The carryback of a NOL requires the carryback year's tax returns to be recomputed. A separate filing is required for both the federal carryback and state carryback. NOL carrybacks can be very complex, but can also generate substantial tax refunds from prior years.
GreenStone’s tax accountants handled a significant number of NOL's over the years, and are very familiar with NOL's since the highly volatile commodity markets cause farms to incur NOL's more frequently than non-farm businesses. If your farm incurs a NOL, make sure your tax preparer understands how to properly analyze the carryback years and is familiar with the important elections that are available. GreenStone’s experienced tax accountants will make sure you get the largest tax benefit available to you!
Kelly Tobin is the Senior Tax Accountant & Product Manager for GreenStone.
Mike Kennedy, GreenStone Senior Financial Services Officer in Ionia, Michigan, shares his thoughts on the benefits of buying your own hunting land.
What is your favorite outdoor activity and why?
My favorite outdoors activity is hunting—especially turkey hunting in the spring and archery deer hunting in the fall. In my household, hunting is a family event and not just something I do alone.
Is there a particular place you love to go to experience the outdoors?
While I love to travel and hunt other parts of the United States, there is something special about being able to hunt on your own land. Owning my own parcel allows me to do habitat improvement projects, which improves quantity and quality of wildlife on my land. When you own your own land, you don’t have to ask anyone’s permission to make improvements. I also don’t have the worry that the parcel might get sold at a future date after I have spent hours improving the land. Some of the projects I do include planting food plots, planting trees, building wildlife ponds, and doing timber management. There is something special about seeing your hard work pay off.
What recommendations do you have for someone thinking about buying recreational land?
My recommendation to anyone looking to buy recreational land is to first determine your primary goal for the property. If possible, find a parcel that will require a minimal amount of work to get it how you want it. While any parcel can be improved, it is always easier to buy land that already has the features you are looking for without a lot of hard work.
Ready to buy your own hunting ground? Contact the experts at GreenStone today!
GreenStone and the Farm Credit System are a network of cooperatively-owned financial institutions, with each organization within the System organized as a cooperative. Cooperatives primarily pursue the same goals as conventional businesses – strong customer service, robust product offerings, engaged employees, and healthy financial returns – but their guiding principles are very different.
Since the first modern cooperative was founded in 1844, cooperatives have followed seven principles that determine who can join, how the business is run, and what activities the cooperative undertakes:
Principle #1. Voluntary and Open Membership
Cooperatives are voluntary organizations, open to anyone who meets their membership criteria.
Principle #2. Democratic Member Control
Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who help set policies and make decisions.
Principle #3. Members' Economic Participation
Members contribute equally to, and democratically control, the capital of the cooperative.
Principle #4. Autonomy and Independence
Cooperatives are autonomous organizations controlled by their members. If the co-op enters into agreements with other organizations or raises capital from external sources, it is done so based on terms that ensure democratic control by the members and maintains the cooperative’s autonomy.
Principle #5. Education, Training and Information
Cooperatives provide education and training for members, elected representatives, managers and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperative. Members also inform the general public about the nature and benefits of cooperatives.
Principle #6. Cooperation among Cooperatives
Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.
Principle #7. Concern for Community
While focusing on member needs, cooperatives work for the sustainable development of communities through policies and programs accepted by the members.
Over the next two weeks, we will explore more deeply how each of these principles is embodied in the organization and operations of GreenStone, all for the benefit of the member-owners who have, in turn, been responsible for the System’s success for 100 years.
By Kimberly Cool
When purchasing recreational land, the expense can be overwhelming. First, there is the 20 percent down and the closing costs (which may be another 2 to 2.5 percent). Buyers will also need to factor in the monthly interest, the principal payment to GreenStone, the liability and/or structural insurance, and the real estate taxes. It may seem like a lot, but buyers shouldn't fret. There are a number of programs out there to help reduce the tax base and offset management costs.
Ducks Unlimited offers a number of various conservation programs. The organization is the leader in wetland as well as waterfowl conservation. Through a Ducks Unlimited program, land owners may be able to offset the cost of restoring and managing the land to a wildlife habitat. Quality Deer Management Association is another organization that may offset the cost of a land restoration project through education, seed costs, or deer management.
There are also a number of government-funded programs. The Qualified Forest Program (QFP) offers conservation programs and tax exemptions. The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) offers conservation, restoration and tax base exemptions, and the Farmland Preservation Program (FPP, also formerly known as P.A. 116) also offers tax exemptions. Check with your local extension office for additional programs specific to your area.
These are just a few of the programs available to help offset expenses; the key is to research and be willing to do a bit of legwork to get the forms submitted and inspections complete. After that, the job is easy! You just need to retreat to your peaceful paradise and enjoy!
Kimberly Cool is a senior financial services officer at GreenStone's Cadillac branch.
Any farm operation requires careful planning on a
whole range of production, financial, insurance and succession planning issues.
A producer's choice of a legal business entity will have a significant effect
on the long-term success of those other decisions.
While there can be differences from state-to-state, sole
proprietorships, corporations and partnerships are the three general business
entities under which producers can organize their businesses. The choice
of legal business entity tends to vary by the type of farm operation. According
to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), about 92 percent of family farms
(where the principal operator and people related to that person by blood or
marriage own more than half of the business) actually operate as sole
proprietorships, which is the most basic organizational option.
Source: 2011 Agricultural Resource Management Survey
On the other hand, that percentage drops sharply for nonfamily farm operations, where the use of partnerships, corporations or other organizational structures is much more prevalent (chart above).
Here's a closer look at each business entity category:
Sole proprietorships. As previously noted, this choice is both common and simple, largely because it does not typically require licenses, permits or other governmental registration. This is a "pass-through" entity, meaning that a producer's farm income is subject to self-employment taxes and reporting, less any legitimate business deductions. However, this relative simplicity comes with two significant drawbacks. First, sole proprietorships don't shield personal assets in the event of bankruptcy or legal actions. And, the business entity dissolves when the owner dies, making it a poor choice for succession planning.
Corporations. The "C" corporation is the most well-recognized entity structure, and it is widely used in the non-farm business world for businesses that wish to raise capital via the sale of public stock. In a farm or ranch entity, those stockholders can be family members or non-related individuals who hold shares in the operation. A key advantage to the "C" corp arrangement is estate planning, since land or other assets held by the corporation are not subject to a step-up in basis upon the death of the major stockholder, thus reducing tax liability for those designated to receive gifts or other inheritances. On the other hand, a "C" corp has higher recordkeeping requirements and, as an entity separate from the individual stockholders, is taxed on both earned profits income and dividends paid to stockholders. Any losses in a "C" corp are not deductible.
Within a corporation structure, there are two other alternatives. Producers can also consider a Subchapter S corporation (or "S" corp). This entity provides the liability protections of a "C" corp – in which the reach of bankruptcy or litigation is limited to assets within the corporation – but is taxed in a similar flow-through manner as a sole proprietorship. In addition to income from production operations, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) also requires an "S" corp to pay taxes on passive income, such as that from cash rent arrangements. A limited liability company (LLC) also offers several advantages, including easy setup, flexible structure, pass-through taxation and liability protections. However, Leibold says some producers may lean too heavily on how the LLC structure can protect their personal interests.
Partnerships. Put simply, a general partnership is a legal entity created by two or more people who want to run a business. This makes it a very good option for non-family farm or ranch operations, since this type of partnership is relatively easy to set up and manage, often by transferring cash or land to the entity in exchange for proportional partnership interests. Each partner's taxable interest is calculated by the cash put into the entity, in addition to the basis for any property contributed at the partnership's formation and any proportional share of liabilities. Like the sole proprietorship and "S" corp, each general partner is responsible for self-employment taxes that flow though in individual returns. On the downside, the general partnership structure does not shield personal assets from creditors, and each participant is liable for their share of contracts or agreements with the partnership.
Meanwhile the limited liability partnership (LLP) offers a more focused entity alternative. Under an LLP, the general partner (or partners) typically holds management authority, meaning that limited partners cannot initiate contracts or bind the group to financial obligations. Limited partners have greater liability protections under the LLP than general partners. Like the general partnership, the LLP is a pass-through entity for tax purposes.
How are major decisions handled? Consider this scenario: A young producer who actively runs day-to-day operations wants to expand the enterprise, while other stakeholders not regularly involved with farming are more interested in boosting cash flow and minimizing expenses. By carefully evaluating their individual situations, producers can choose the business entity that best suits their specific managerial requirements.
How will the entity accommodate expected – and unexpected – life events? While producers can build an organizational structure that encompasses normal estate or succession planning issues, they also need to consider the potential for unplanned events, such as an early death, divorce or disability. For example, if a general partner unexpectedly dies, the partnership agreement will dissolve, which can create significant tax issues for the remaining stakeholders. That same event would not create similar turbulence within a "C" or "S" corp business structure, since those entities are perpetual.
What happens if things don't work out? Anytime a farm operation has more than one participant that has contributed money, land or other resources toward the venture, there's room for disagreement. Under some circumstances, contentious issues can push relationships past the point of no return, which makes it important to plan for such contingencies before finalizing the choice of business entity.
1. Leibold, K., "Business Entities." (March 2014)
Ag Decision Maker, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach
2. Hoppe, R., Korb, P., and MacDonald, J., "Farm Size
and the Organization of U.S. Crop Farming." (August 2013) Economic
Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture
3. "Corporations." (July 8, 2016) Internal Revenue
4. "S Corporations." (August 1, 2016) Internal
By Adam Ingrao
As an advocate for opportunities for our military veterans in the agricultural sector, I have traveled the country speaking to thousands of veterans about the benefits of working in ag for financial and personal wellness, and there is no topic more asked about by veterans than beekeeping. Veterans are conscious of the importance of bees to agriculture and are aware of the challenges bees have been facing with the rise of the Varroa mite and Colony Collapse Disorder. It seems that many veterans are ready for a new mission: to protect and nurture the most important insect in agriculture. In response to this overwhelming interest, Michigan beekeepers have come together to offer a couple of unique opportunities for our heroes to learn the art and science of beekeeping.
Launched in 2015, Heroes to Hives is a free 9-month mentorship and education program created and facilitated by Bee Wise Farms LLC in Lansing, Michigan – my personal farm. This free program offers combat veterans the opportunity to learn beekeeping through lectures and hands-on experience. Each student is provided with two bee hives that they manage for an entire season, which allows them the opportunity to experience real world hive management in a veteran focused educational format. The 2016 cohort of veterans is made up of three Army veterans, a Navy veteran, and a Marine that span service periods from Vietnam through the Post 9-11 era. The success of the program has been widely recognized in the veteran community and has resulted in an expansion for 2017 through generous private donations and a partnership with Michigan State University’s Michigan Pollinator Initiative. This partnership, and the support from our donors, will allow this program to expand to train 15 veterans in beekeeping next year using our hands on approach to learning. Applications for the program will open this fall and donations to support the program can be made through the Michigan Pollinator Initiative by pressing the “Give Now” button.
Created by a group of dedicated Michigan veterans, Thera-Bees is a new program being launched in 2017 through the generous support of the Michigan Honey Festival and Michigan beekeepers. A first of its kind in the nation, Thera-Bees seeks to train veterans transitioning from homelessness to become beekeepers. The program is a partnership between Michigan Food and Farming Systems’ Vets in Ag Network, Farmer Veteran Coalition of Michigan, Bee Wise Farms, and Anka Behavioral Health. The program will be administered in Akron, Michigan at the Anka Behavioral Health Center campus which provides housing for homeless veterans. Students will be taught all aspects of beekeeping from equipment manufacturing to honey harvesting and marketing by experts from around the state. The program aims to give them the knowledge base and skill sets necessary to be competitive in the beekeeping industry, and give them the opportunity to rebuild their lives. Donations for this program can be made to Farmer Veteran Coalition of Michigan at P.O. Box 23182 Lansing, MI 48909 (please note Thera-Bees on the donation).
Michigan has a rich history in beekeeping. We are home to the oldest continuous beekeeping organization in the country, the Michigan Beekeepers Association, which has been serving beekeepers since 1865, and the success and growth of events like the Michigan Honey Festival continue to demonstrate the passion Michiganders have for the honey bee. Programs like Heroes to Hives and Thera-Bees allow us to share this passion with veterans in a meaningful and beneficial way to both the veteran and our agricultural systems.
Adam Ingrao is an Army veteran, co-Director of the Vets in Ag Network, co-Founder of Farmer Veteran Coalition of Michigan, owner of Bee Wise Farms LLC, and is a National Science Foundation graduate research fellow in the Department of Entomology at Michigan State University. He can be reached at email@example.com.
By Dan Kaufman
If you have recently bought hunting property, I can imagine that your head is full of habitat improvement ideas. If it were me I would want to use all of my vacation time immediately to start creating the next whitetail utopia! However, in this situation, I have seen that usually the end result is regret due to the rush to jump in and start making changes. In business and personal life, we are always looking at ways to improve and we bring this same mentality to our hunting property.
This is also where issues can arise as the improvements we make to our hunting land can be tough to reverse, so trial and error can be costly. We need to slow down and begin developing a plan to maximize the potential of our properties.
Often the recommended first habitat improvement is to do nothing. Spend the first year or two on the property learning how the deer use the land. You want to answer the following questions:
- How much daylight activity is there and where is that activity taking place?
- Do the animals bed on your property and where?
- What are the preferred food sources and when do they use them?
- What potential stand sites exist on your property and do they have good entry and exit routes to minimize disturbance?
If you’ve owned your property for years, you’ll be able to answer these questions. If you’re new to the property, it’ll take a year or two to find the answers.
Developing the plan:
Once you have the above questions answered, you can start forming your game plan. For example, if you’re lacking daylight activity and security cover for bedding, then look at hinge cutting, native grasses, and/or timber stand improvements. The most popular habitat improvements are:
- Native habitat management
- Timber stand improvements (TSI)
- Hinge cutting
- Select cutting
- Clear cutting
- Food plots
- Fruit and nut trees
- Native grass plantings
- Water sources
Your geographic location, soil types, size of property, and financial position will determine what options are best for your property. While developing the plan, you will want to learn the ins and outs of each option that you decide to pursue. For example, if you decide you want apple trees, then plant apple trees with the rootstock and apple variety that’ll give you the best drop times, disease resistance, and yield. The places I reference most often are local feed mills, farmers, foresters, tree nurseries, and online forums. Some of the most helpful online forums I have found are:
Executing the plan:
Now begins the fun part of making the property your own by executing the plan that you’ve developed. Spending time in the woods and fields getting your hands dirty will bring satisfaction as you see your plan develop! Involving family and friends, having fun, and staying safe should all be your top priorities while improving and enjoying your property. And hey, maybe you’ll even get to harvest the buck of a lifetime in the process!
Dan Kaufman is a financial services officer in Coleman, Wisconsin and an avid hunter.
By Henry Smits
Before I joined GreenStone as a credit intern in 2015, I had already accumulated a fair amount of exposure to the agricultural industry. My interest in farming drove me to observe, research, and work in the industry in order to gain knowledge about the industry. However, until I joined GreenStone, I had experienced very little exposure to the financial aspects of the industry. When I began my first internship at GreenStone I made it my biggest goal to learn as much as possible about the financial side of the agricultural industry. As a credit intern, I have been and continue to be exposed to the financial aspects of the industry, working with a variety of types and sizes of farm entities. Through the experience I have accumulated, I can affirm I have met my goal of gaining more insight into the financial details of the agricultural industry.
This summer I am focused primarily on continuing the progress of the benchmark project, which is focused on three market groups: dairy farms, greenhouses, and row crop farms. I am involved with gathering data, setting up spreadsheets, and creating charts and tables that show how the benchmark ratios and figures compare to previous years. The benchmark project will be valuable to GreenStone because it will aid analysts and others with comparing a specific client’s performance with the average performance of similar entities. In addition, I also took advantage of the opportunity to assist credit analysts in writing loan narratives, which has sparked an interest in possibly pursuing a career in agricultural finance in the future.
Because this is my second internship at GreenStone, I have had a wealth of exposure to the company. I have come to appreciate the relaxed work environment, the willingness of others to explain concepts and assist me with challenging tasks, the interest of others in my background and my goals, as well as receiving the opportunity to witness the involvement of GreenStone in the agricultural industry as an organization playing an integral role in the financial aspect of that industry, whether it being with helping beginning farmers turn dreams into reality or helping more established farmers capitalize on opportunities. What began as an interest in broadening my perspective of the agricultural industry, has led to the discovery of a career field that would allow me to utilize both my accounting degree as well as my lifelong interest in farming.
Henry Smits is a credit intern in Grand Rapids.
In some industries, new professionals might sit in a cubicle, draw a salary and let others figure out how to run a profitable business. In farming, however, new producers must figure out why they want to work long hours in fields, pastures or feedlots, how they can turn that effort into a steady income, and what type of farm operation they can successfully operate from one year to the next.
Not surprisingly, that type of grit and determination can make a big difference with agricultural lenders. While passion is clearly a major prerequisite for farm life, capital is also vital for young or beginning producers trying to get started in an expensive business. Due in large part to steep entry barriers, such as high prices to purchase or rent land, substantial input costs, and depressed returns on farm commodities, fewer than 8 percent of U.S. producers are under age 35. While many grew up on farms that became a launching pad for their own operations, it's still common for younger producers to hold down second jobs to help finance their dreams of rural life, as Successful Farming reported in September 2015. Facing those hurdles, experts say it's important that young producers–or even older individuals.
Develop a Business Plan
Business plans are a routine part of the financing process for virtually any business. However, 63 percent of current producers who participated in a recent Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education survey said they had no formal business plan when they started farming. That lapse may help explain why a majority of respondents also said they were "not very successful" at maintaining profitability, managing expenses, and insuring their operations.
In essence, the business plan outlines a strategic overview of what a beginning or young producer wants to accomplish, and why they are a good candidate for achieving those goals. If done well, the plan should include:
- Personal narrative. This should include a personal and educational history, an outline of farming experience and a discussion of why the producer wants to pursue a career on the land.
- Business overview. In this section, producers should start by identifying their target business model, such as a partnership, limited liability company or other entity for tax purposes. Then, outline short-term goals that cover the intended type of operation (such as crop, livestock or organic farming, or a community-supported agriculture enterprise serving a more urban area). These goals should provide specific targets on production, anticipated income and planned expenses. This overview becomes even stronger if the producer takes time to illustrate longer-term projections on how the farm business can grow while maintaining profitability.
- Risk management approach. This component should summarize the producer's approach to handling the uncertainties of farm life. For a production crop operation, this may include the choice of Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) or Price Loss Coverage (PLC) under the 2014 Farm Bill, the use of any private multi-peril crop insurance, and a discussion of how the producer would use crop marketing tools to hedge profit risk in the current low commodity price environment. In addition, this risk management narrative should also address contingency planning, which is an important reality-check that all lenders want to see.
- Balance sheet. Experienced producers have years of income and cash-flow statements, equity statements, expense records and cost-of-production data. On the other hand, the financial records for most young or beginning farmers often boil down to a basic balance sheet. Lenders will want to see a list of current assets, such as checking, savings and any investment account balances, as well as the value of any real property or vehicles owned by the prospective borrower. On the liability side, the balance sheet should disclose any outstanding debt on a mortgage, vehicle, student loans or credit cards, and any regular monthly payments on those obligations. In addition, lenders typically want to review up to three years of the applicant's most recent tax returns. The balance sheet summary serves two main purposes. First, it provides lenders with a tangible sense of how well applicants handle their financial affairs (and, by extension, how likely they are to repay operating loans). And, the balance sheet will also determine whether the applicant meets minimum capital standards for lender financing. Across the Farm Credit System, lending to young or beginning producers typically includes a review of the borrower's net worth, ownership equity in the planned farm operation, and expected working capital to meet monthly obligations and pay off existing liabilities.
Building a solid case for operating loans or other financing can be a daunting challenge, particularly for younger producers who have little or no experience with the process. Fortunately, an array of online resources are available to help jump start the task. For example, the AgPlan tool developed by the University of Minnesota allows users to customize business plans by type of operation, and share drafts for feedback from select advisers or farm educators. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also provides a substantial library of farm business planning resources through its New Farmers website.
While the online resources add tactical value, young or beginning producers should also build early ties with a lender who can offer strategic, real-world advice on the development of a farm business plan. If you are a beginning producer, contact your local GreenStone branch to see how we can help your business grow.
One of the best places to start a career in information technology is the service desk. One really gets a feel of the company on all levels because everyone uses the service desk at some time. You are the information hub of the organization; you not only get a feel of the organization, but also what you know, and what you still need to learn. I suppose that’s why I love technology, there’s always something to learn.
A little background on myself: ever since I was small I was always playing on a computer, using software and figuring how it worked. I tried several game design camps as early as eighth grade. I went to the Capital Area Career Center as well as Williamston High School. By going to the career center, I was able to get a head start on my course work and started to learn programming languages and web development there. When I graduated high school, I had won 13th in the state for Java programming with Business Professionals of America. This gave me the confidence to continue pursuing one of my greatest passions, technology.
At Grand Valley State University, I continued on my path of learning several programming languages, but was able to pursue my business minors, giving me a board range of skills, from the basics of business, and a solid technology foundation. My position at GreenStone allowed me to apply all of my skills in finance, networking, hardware/software, management theory, and software development.
GreenStone has allowed me to explore avenues of technology beyond application development. Through this internship I have gained a better understanding of corporate culture as a whole and how technology relates to business. It has shown me that technology has a place in every industry, from medicine and manufacturing, to helping America bring food to the table. While I hope to come back to GreenStone after I graduate, I know that the experience I’ve gained through the service desk and working with the Project Management Office and Business Analysis Unit has helped me grow as a professional. Thanks to this internship I will continue on in my career, confident in applying the skills I had once learned out of a book to help serve the world.
Hannah Long is an information services intern in East Lansing.