Agri Leader

Ag financial management conference highlights business skills

The Florida Agriculture Financial Management Conference, designed to help farmers and agribusinesses improve their financial and business management skills, will be held Oct. 21-22 at the Omni Orlando Resort at Champions Gate. The event, which is partially funded by USDA specialty crop block grants administered by Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and was first held in 2010, will include presentations by some of the country's leading agricultural and financial experts. Educational sessions will feature topics such as economic forecasting, risk management, banking and lending trends, business succession planning, regulatory issues, compliance measures surrounding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and external market issues that impact cash flow. The event is aimed at farmers and other agribusiness owners and operators, chief financial officers, controllers, certified public accountants and accounting managers, and attorneys. Last year's event offered continuing education credits for attorneys and accountants and conference organizers have applied for the same capability this year.
Regina Thomas, senior vice president and chief business development officer at Farm Credit of Central Florida in Lakeland and an organizer and co-chair of the conference, explained why the event is so important. The financial and business challenges of farming become more complex and challenging every year, Thomas said, so it's no longer enough just to be a good grower or producer. "Agribusinesses wear a lot of different hats today and do a lot of different jobs," Thomas said. "But for many, managing their business financially has not been an area where they have put their emphasis." Today, she stressed, such focus on financial and business management are critical to survival and prosperity. "They have to have a handle on every aspect of financial management and good business practices," Thomas said. "And our conference helps give them the knowledge and tools to be able to do that. It's more important than ever now that farmers understand, from an economics perspective, the operations of an agribusiness. And that means operating efficiently and effectively, and understanding things like how the credit systems functions." Among the most important issues to be covered at this year's conference is succession planning. "With the change in the estate tax, raising the amount a couple can pass on to their children from $5 million to $10 million, it's no longer so much a matter of the federal tax as an issue," Thomas said. "But there is still the intergenerational issue that is really playing a big role in the transition of family farms today. And that is one of the key topics that will be covered at the conference. We'll be looking at succession planning not just as a matter of passing down a farm to the next generation, but also having that next generation be prepared to run it from a business perspective." Lauren Detzel of business law firm Dean Mead will make a presentation titled "The Family Business of Agriculture: The Next Generation." The focus will be on developing the business and leadership skills of the next generation of Florida farmers as they assume control from their predecessors. Another critical issue that will be covered is credit management and a better understanding of credit markets. "That's one of the most critical issues farmers are facing today," Harris said. "A lot of farmers today have good business savvy, but not necessarily financial savvy. And when a farmer goes in for credit, he or she needs to have everything prepared from a financial perspective. And that includes understanding what a lending institution looks for in a loan application and how to get the best interest rates." Michael Minton, Dean Mead's past president and chair of the firm's agribusiness industry group, emphasized other key topics to be covered at the conference. One is water-related issues, such as the new numeric nutrient criteria now being established under the auspices of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, general water quality issues and ongoing battles over water supply. "Water is one of the key elements that everybody involved in Florida agriculture is concerned about," Minton said, "because if you can't control your water, you're not going to be in business." A panel discussion will provide a detailed look at current and future water-related concerns. Another critical current issue, Minton said, is general concerns over tax issues and how they relate to political battles in Washington and how the decisions of policy makers could affect export opportunities for Florida growers and producers. "So another important concern today is how actions in Washington can adversely affect the marketplace," Minton said. "And those will be discussed at the conference, too." For more information, including a complete agenda, visit or call (407) 295-7994.