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After zipping up my warmest coat for the third day in a row, I started daydreaming about a vacation. But how much would it cost?

Farm business getaways

Like (almost) any farmer would, I started wondering if we could write off at least some of the costs of a trip to a sunny place this winter. Then I called MNP’s (formerly Meyers Norris Penny) Humboldt office.

According to Dave Moore, regional ag leader and business advisor, writing off travel expenses is a “little bit of a grey zone.”

For example, if you take a trip to Disney World and stop in to tour a working orange grove while you’re in Florida, the Canada Revenue Agency may have some pretty tough questions for you.

But, the more business-related your trip actually is, the more likely it is that you have a legitimate expense.

Wayne Kunz, an agricultural business advisor in MNP’s Humboldt office, says you need to ask yourself, “What’s the main reason you’re going?”

He gave an example of a farm family driving to Saskatoon, picking up some parts while they’re in the city, and calling it a business trip. The CRA may want to know if those parts could have been purchased locally.

Before you try to write off your trip to Maui as a “fact-finding expedition to look at macadamia nut production,” consider Kunz’s next question. If you do write off that trip, “What are you really saving?” If your farm is incorporated, you’ll only save the small business tax rate (in Saskatchewan, 13 per cent in 2012). Is it worth leaving the Puerto Vallarta beaches to look at agave plants for a whole day, just to try to get a 13 per cent discount on your flight to Mexico?

I asked Moore and Kunz if they have many clients calling to ask this question, and they said, really, they don’t. They just recommend that farmers take a common-sense approach. “It has to be logical,” Kunz said.

“You’re taking all the fun out of this,” I told them. They both started to laugh, and Kunz said, “Who said tax was fun?”

Farm accounting

Actually, I suspect that both Kunz and Moore think tax is fun. They both seemed to be enjoying their jobs.

I’m no accountant, but I’m starting to understand their enthusiasm for the area. After keeping the books on our farm for the past two years, I’ve almost worked through the “frustrated and loud cursing” stage of the learning process.

I won’t try to pretend there’s no cursing at all when I have stacks of mismatched invoices spread out all over the table and a computer program humming — typos that put the bank reconciliation out by $0.02 are frustrating. But I’m starting to enjoy the satisfaction that comes with a correct inventory valuation, a reconciled bank account or the ability to calculate the costs of a specific part of the farm operation with the few keyboard clicks.

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to learn more about record-keeping and data analysis,to see if we can use our information to make even better management decisions on our farm. I’m planning to attend a workshop to improve my AgExpert skills (AgExpert is FCC’s farm-accounting software). This might cut my cursing down to the point where I can even use AgExpert when our six-year old is in the house.

I’m also taking a trip to Syngenta’s Grower University in January. Syngenta Canada Inc. has set up this course with the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario. Syngenta invites invite farmers from across Canada to take part in the four-day program.

I expect to learn a lot about financial planning and management at the Syngenta course. I’m looking forward to learning more about farm business management, meeting farmers from across the country, and sharing what I learn with Grainews readers.

(Before you get enthusiastic about reading articles on how my record-keeping resolution is turning out, I should let you know that another of my New Year’s resolutions was to never drop another smartphone into a toilet, and then let you read the next section.)

Farm show memories

There was a lot of machinery, new ideas, and innovative products at Ag Days, Manitoba’s big annual ag show in Brandon in January. I learned quite a bit.

But I think the most important thing I learned in Brandon was to not keep my smartphone in my pants’ pocket when I go to the washroom. (I am a slow learner. This was my second chance to learn this lesson.)

Normally, especially since last time, I keep my phone in a pocket of my jacket or my purse. Especially when I enter a washroom. But there were a few things I wanted to photograph of at the farm show. So while we were walking around, I had to keep my phone handy.

I suppose this a classic example of trading long-term usefulness for short-term convenience. It was a bad decision. I’ve lost all those snapshots (down the drain, sort of.)

Luckily, Grainews machinery editor, Scott Garvey, was at the show the day after me. Scott took photos of most of the things I’d wanted captured on film (if we still say that, in this digital age). However, I lost all of the Australian memories I was storing on my phone.

I am sad to lose my photo of Jack. I found Jack and his mom near the Agriculture More Than Ever booth. Agriculture More Than Ever is FCC’s campaign to promote agricultural success. My six-year old was refusing to hold up their cartoon-style text balloon that said “kiss me, I’m a farmer” and let me take his picture. But eight-year old Jack was more accommodating. He had a great big grin on his face while he held up the sign that read “I’d rather be farming.”

Jack and his family were visiting from Australia, where they run a dairy farm near the south shore. Jack had a full Aussie accent, but his mom grew up in Manitoba, reading Grainews, and Jack’s grandfather is still a regular reader. Jack’s mom’s email address was also conveniently stored on my phone. Unfortunately, I suspect Jack’s grandfather will spend the rest of the winter leafing through Grainews, searching for Jack’s photo and wondering why the Grainews editor would lie to a sweet young kid at a farm show.

I also lost the photo of a baby kangaroo enjoying the booth displays. That’s right — a kangaroo. Its owner had it wrapped up in a blanket, strapped to her chest like a baby. You could hear cries of “What the heck’s that?” in the aisles ahead of them as they walked through the show. (The kangaroo’s owners run a Manitoba petting zoo.)

The point of this story is that you never know what you’re going to find at a farm show. Or lose.

In this issue

As you’ve already noticed, we kicked off this issue with a story about pea inoculant trials in Swift Current. Not all of the results are finalized, but there is some information available that could help you get ready for spring.

On page 6, you’ll find Lisa Guenther’s story about midge-tolerant wheat. This isn’t the first year that midge-tolerant wheat has been on the market, but there are some new varieties.

Page 8 features a rundown of products available for your pre-seeding burn-off, by farmer/freelancer Gerald Pilger.

When you get to the machinery section, you’ll see an evaluation of John Deere’s 6R tractors. This is the second full-length machinery evaluation story we’ve run recently. Scott hopes to be able to write a few more articles like this over the winter. Maybe you have a 6R yourself, and you have your own comments you’d like to share. We’d love to hear about it, so please get in touch.

Enjoy this issue!

Leeann

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