Agriculture - When Things are Relatively Stable Think + Plan

The time to think and plan is when agriculture is relatively stable.

Don't wait for a down-cycle to make yourself think, plan and worry. Decision making during a stable period is far easier than when we are under stress. When we have time to do our homework and test our plans a much better decision for our financial future will result. Even during stability there is much to consider.

Many urban households need two income streams today and have done for some years. Children are being born a bit later, houses are being bought a bit later and mortgages are being taken on board a bit later. This trend looks like continuing in the foreseeable future and many rural households are going down the same path.

That hard working rural wife who is working 30 hours per week at the local hospital, local school or local business is, in a sheep and beef farming sense, introducing into the farm bank account each year the net profit from another 1200 – 1500 stock units. Dairy-wise she is introducing into the farm bank account the net profit from another 75 – 100 milking cows.

Yes, education of rural children is just as important, and probably more important, than fertiliser for maybe a 10 year period. That's because the world may have more of a problem by 2050 in finding work for its people than finding food for its people.

We need to stop thinking about inflation gains with farmland and start really focusing on farm profits, cash flow and productivity. We need to make what we presently have work and work well and not rely upon any inflation add-ons. Forget history in this respect. The future looks somewhat volatile and history is always useful to be aware of, but is of no use from a cash flow and profitability point of view.

Being an autumn spender still has a place – at least you will know then how much surplus cash you don't have.

New Zealand's irrigation water is a wonderful asset that many other countries don't have. What we are finding though is that with some of the new larger schemes the annual water charge to farming couples is getting up into that $750 - $1000 per hectare bracket which for some is a long way from being workable. For many farming couples the key is going to be management changes and a different income 'mix' which is not something they will all want to cope with.

At the moment cotton farmers in the United States need Government support or at least insurance support to limit their losses. Parts of US agriculture are struggling and President Donald Trump is having problems with his neighbours of Canada and Mexico. If you have trouble with your neighbours the ones further down the street may also generate trouble. US agriculture is volatile at the moment and last year the nation had trade deficits with other countries of US$803 billion.

A recent survey suggested that the average US farm family has an annual health care cost of about $15,743 – there is though a lot of interstate variation. Often what happens in the US ends up in NZ in time. That $15,743 works out at $63 per day based on a 250 day working year. Make sure you are covering this issue one way or the other.

Money is not everything but it probably comes second after oxygen. The percentage of US people with less than $10,000 in retirement savings is 56 per cent. On the other hand about 60 per cent own their own home.

About 10,000 Americans retire each day – that is 70,000 per week. There are 44,000 mobile home parks in the US, a function partly of insufficient retirement savings but maybe a better use of housing capital.

The OECD has advised that 56 countries are financially fragile and 36 of them are in Africa. The number simply emphasises the volatility around the world and we need to consolidate our businesses to cope with this. Don't wait until you are in trouble to action this – as I said before decisions under stress may be good for short term situations but a stable period when you have time to do the homework and test your plans is a better environment for deciding your financial future.

Am I being a bit negative here? No, I am realistic and if I was negative I would not be in business. New Zealand employers are the unsung heroes when things get financially tough. Our 20-year-old children will probably be 70-years-old before they will get national superannuation. Your financial management for them is mainly across the family kitchen table. We need to teach them about inflation, about compound interest, about good debt, bad debt and ugly debt and that borrowing for investment is sound but borrowing for lifestyle is unsound.

We also need to be careful about any financial comments coming from the Government of the day as they want to sound positive and stay in power. We had 71,000 immigrants last year, but a big percentage of them probably came back from Australia. Without these immigrants our financial scene would be somewhat weaker. Immigration is looking like an ongoing issue and in some ways we need it but many would not agree with this.

In Christchurch we seem to need more retirement complexes, less office blocks and more car parking. In Auckland they seem to need a lot more houses – an increase in the Auckland unemployment rate and an increase in interest rates does not bear thinking about from a mortgage servicing point of view.

The problems my father used to bring up around our family kitchen table when I was a teenager revolved around Africa, the meat works and wars and conflict around the world. We seem to be slow learners as that is still what I seem to be reading about today. If lamb does not get up to $110 per head as a minimum then sheep numbers will probably drop further which will bring up the meat works issue again.

Good decision making demands top advice, a spouse that is involved, profits that are actually visible, a leader who is motivated and has horse power and a team that is getting job satisfaction 90 per cent of the time. Never forget that losses don't need managing – they manage themselves.

Pita Alexander is an accountancy and agribusiness director at Alexanders.