Life on the land: Next-gen accounting for the modern farmer

As connected technologies become increasingly embedded in farming, accountants have new opportunities to provide value to agriculture clients.

Farming is an age-old practice with traditions that go back thousands of years (and some of them are unlikely to change anytime soon).

While they continue to keep odd hours and spend their days herding, checking, mending and building, new technologies and the pressure of the modern market is beginning to leave its mark.

Today, agronomists have more tools at their disposal for the remote monitoring of livestock, pasture growth and management, water supply and even milk temperature and tanker collection.


Relationships evolve between accountant and agronomist


For the high-tech farm, knowing how much stock they’re carrying, or accurately forecasting what their next harvest will deliver is easier than ever before.

Their physical suppliers and buyers can benefit from this, but more importantly their financial advisors can better assist the farmer in this situation.

And that’s where Lance Fielder and Mervyn Gyde, directors of GFA Chartered Accountants come in.

This two-partner practice based in Te Awamutu supports 13 staff by dedicating the majority of their efforts to supporting a rural clientele.

“This is a great place to operate your business,” said Fielder. “There’s just fantastic people and fantastic businesses around here. And it’s just a really awesome place to bring up a family, too.”

Gyde has been in the area his entire life, practicing as an accountant for around 30 years, and so has seen the greatest change in the relationship between farmer and accountant.

“Going back… you saw your farming clients once a year,” Gyde said. “Often it was a reluctant activity for them.

“They were busy doing what they were doing and that was the lifestyle.

“Coming to see us was relegated to the rainy days, maybe.”

READ: NZ agribusiness needs more from advisors

Gyde describes an old paradigm, whereby the accountant was a checkpoint for tax compliance first and financial advice second, if at all.

This paradigm has, in recent times, been flipped on its head.


Connected farming: Devices, data and real-time business insights


“You’ve got a lot of connectivity these days, so it’s about being more available to the clients,” said Fielder. “They get up at four o’clock in the morning to milk the cows and get them in; they start pretty early, so when they want to talk to you, they want to talk to you.”

“It’s about availability, and through technology and connectivity these days that could be any time of the night, any time of the day.”

But what can the team at GFA do for their clients when they get a call at five or six in the morning?

“It’s just about challenging them,” said Fielder. “Not about how they farm, but just about some of the business decisions they make on the farm.”

For Gyde, it’s that change from being a ‘once a year’ accountant to an on-demand financial advisor that he sees as a significant opportunity.

“We’ve got a few programs we put our farmers through,” said Gyde. “We meet with them two or three times a year, challenge their thinking and make them think about their business as a business.

“The younger guys want more contact, they want more information.

“They know they can get software that processes their data, but they’re not that good at interpreting it necessarily, so they want another set of eyes on it.”


Learning on the land and network effects


As this new way of working with their farming clients has evolved, the team at GFA have found they can add value from their conversations not only for the client directly, but for many of their other clients, too.

In this way, Fielder and Gyde see new technologies as making them more closely connected to their clients while their clients become more closely connected at the same time.

“The conversations we’re now having are both compliance and operations-focused,” said Gyde. “Farmers are becoming more environmentally aware and while not all embrace it, they realise it’s here to stay and may only become more important.

“So when we talk about fertiliser application rates and nitrogen leaching, we can get more specific if the farmer has pasture growth software.

“When we talk about bought in feed versus own grass, we can be more accurate with our budgeting because the farmer knows his growth rates.”

The pair also acknowledge MYOB as delivering a few key pieces of the technology infrastructure for that network, which started with BankLink and has evolved into delivering a cost-effective online solution to help accountants and farmers with reporting obligations, GST compliance and better insights into cash flow.

READ: How accountants can play a key role in succession planning

Agricultural-focused functionality on the MYOB Essentials platform allows cloud-based tracking of specific on-farm quantities such as changes in stock levels, amount of milk sold, weight of grain and wool produced – giving accountants and farmers a deeper understanding of their business performance.

“BankLink has been a huge part of our practice, capturing data and allowing us to give extremely useful reports to the bank, and to the farming sector, while also using it as part of our budgeting and reporting processes,” said Fielder.

“With regard to helping us and the farmer receive timely data and information, I’m pretty excited about what MYOB’s got to offer, without a doubt.”

For Gyde, the overall result is a system that provides something of a ‘win-win-win’ scenario.

“Our job is really to create shareholder wealth and improve shareholder wealth, and that’s achieved by helping our clients grow their businesses.

“Lance and I are lucky we enjoy what we do – it’s not hardship for us to come to work.”