‘Look at what has been working for you and what hasn’t’ – accountant

The recently announced Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) accountant of the year, Eilis Quinlan, who went into the profession to help save the family farm, advises farmers currently in financial difficulty to look at what has been working for them and what hasn’t.

“If in difficulty, talk to your bank, keep it informed. Also talk to your agricultural advisor and/or accountant and draw up a mid to longer-term plan.

Look at what has been working for you and what hasn’t and also look to the future of the various farming sectors. Consider leasing extra land to grow your business or letting your land instead.

“Consider if your farm would be put to better use doing an alternative style of farming. Look to other and additional types of off-farm and complementary income, such as cheese and yoghurt making and organic farming; although some of these sectors are getting a bit overcrowded at present,” said Naas-based Eilis.

“There is now plenty of cheap money available for farmers who can show they have a plan. For example, the marts and co-ops, while a necessary support line at one time, can charge exorbitant interest rates, and these loans can be bought out and re-financed at much cheaper rates, giving you a better cash-flow and a chance to get things under control,” Eilis said.

“You may need to consider an investment in, for example, additional equipment or draining, fencing or farm buildings, but if you can show, on paper, that in the middle term this will show profits and sustainability, then the funds are definitely available. Most importantly, seek help.”

Technology

Key mistakes being made by farmers are not keeping their records properly, especially where stock are concerned and not using the myriad of technology now available, according to Eilis.

“When we first had our own farm, you would often stay up all night with cows calving for example, but now you can have an app on your phone which will alert you, so that you have some chance of a night’s sleep,” she said.

“An accountant will only know what you tell them, so if you lose invoices, or ‘forget’ to give them some paperwork, you will also lose the tax benefit of claiming these reliefs.

“There are many specialised tax breaks for farmers, and often these are lost because of the lack of paperwork to support a tax claim. You can easily look up these reliefs, but you must have the back-up paperwork. Then plan.”

Marriage and non-marriage are more relevant today than ever, according to Eilis. “If a couple are living together but not married, they are treated completely differently by Revenue in the event of a break up, or on death of one partner.

Inheritance and tax planning through partnerships and land leases are also huge at the moment, as there are different tax treatments for different lengths of land leases, and tax breaks for partnerships, especially where family is concerned.

“It’s really all about planning, looking forward to decide where you would like to be in, say, 10 years, and then planning in the most tax efficient way possible to get there. This is really where your accountant shows their true worth.

“Terrible things happen on farms, and it only adds to the grief if financial hardship also results, where with a little forward planning things could have been at least mitigated,” said Eilis.

App

Eilis has developed the Quinlan & Co app to streamline the processes. “My app simply sits on your phone, which you will usually have in your pocket, or in the tractor, so you need never worry about losing paperwork again.

“For example, you can just photograph a batch of receipts and they will be imported, through the app, into your accounts package and under the correct heading, so there are no more Excel spreadsheets at midnight or when the kids are in bed,” she said.

“You can also look up all the most up-to-date tax rates, tax breaks, and tax deadlines. You can import your online banking directly into the app, and into your accounts package, and look up how much a loan would cost you monthly, over whatever number of years you want.

“You can very quickly work out the VAT rates, and whether the VAT is included in a price or must be added on,” Eilis said.

“You can also contact us directly through the app, if you are out in the middle of a field and you think of something you want to check out. It’s just that simple; you have a huge resource at your fingertips, on the move with you, without lugging a heavy laptop around with you. And it’s free to download.”