Running your farm is hard work. After a long day out in the fields or in the barn, the last thing you want to think about is your business accounting. But, just like any other business owner, having accurate accounting records for your farm is crucial to your financial success. And, just like other business owners, the first step to having good accounting records is choosing the right farm accounting software. Here are our top picks.
We spoke with Mike McLenehan of McLenehan and Associates, an expert in accounting for the farming industry and author of the upcoming book “Profit First for Farms” about some of the challenges farmers face. “Most small farms struggle to be profitable, but it doesn’t have to be this way,” McLenehan says. “By taking their profit first and spending only what remains on expenses, farmers can avoid living from check-to-check and panic-to-panic and enjoy running a farm business that is permanently profitable.”
He continues: “Farmers today need to be growers/producers and professional business managers, and it is sometimes hard to do both jobs well. To become a profitable small farm, you need to implement accounting software and go from confusion to clarity regarding your numbers. With the benefit of financial data to guide your decisions, you will avoid the hardship that comes from making the wrong choices, and feel confident that you are doing what’s right for your business and your family.”
Here are some factors to consider.
Farmers have many of the same bookkeeping needs as other business owners. You need to track your income, expenses and assets for tax purposes. If your farm had gross receipts of $25 million or less over the past three years, you can file your taxes using cash basis accounting, and you don’t have to maintain an inventory for tax purposes. This makes your accounting easier, but your requirements for tax purposes don’t stop there.
In addition to having good financial statements in order to prepare your taxes, you also need to make sure your records will hold up under an audit, should you ever find yourself undergoing one. This means record retention is critically important. But that’s just one more thing for you to keep up with, and often receipts get lost as you’re going about your more critical chores.
In addition to having financial data to file your tax returns, you also need to be able to use your accounting reports to help you make managerial decisions about your farm. Does a certain crop bring in more profits than the others? Are you spending too much on land maintenance and soil health? Can you afford to buy a new combine, or would you be better off investing in maintenance on your existing machine?
It can be daunting to think of managing all of these requirements to keep your farm in good financial reporting shape. Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to find an easy farm accounting software that is also cost-effective.
QuickBooks Pro: Best overall farm accounting software
First up on our list of best farm accounting software solutions is QuickBooks Pro — one of two options in the QuickBooks Desktop suite. This accounting software is cost-effective, easy to use and supported by most accountants and many outsourced bookkeepers. Although QuickBooks Pro is not specifically a farm accounting software, you can easily customize the chart of accounts and the native financial statements to fit your farm’s accounting needs.
QuickBooks Pro can handle all of the accounting functions your farm needs, including:
Keep your check register up to date and reconciled to your bank statement.
Track vendor bills, quickly analyze balances due and record payments all in one spot.
Manage your assets, so you always know the financial value of your farm.
Quickly produce the reports your accountant needs to file your tax return.
QuickBooks Pro is a one-time purchase of $399.99. For this price, you get a desktop-based software (no internet required unless you use the bank feed feature) with three user logins. If you need payroll capabilities, it comes at an additional investment starting at $29 per month plus $2 per employee per month and increasing if you want assisted or full-service payroll services (internet is required for these services).
Do be aware that Intuit — the makers of QuickBooks Pro — “sunsets” QuickBooks Desktop every three years, so if you use payroll or other features, you will have to purchase, install and convert to the new version of the software every three years. This still means you only pay about $100 per year on average for the software, which is a nominal price point for the farm accounting capabilities you get.
QuickBooks Online: Best cloud-based farm accounting software
While QuickBooks Pro is a locally hosted accounting solution — meaning it lives on your desktop and can be accessed without an internet connection — QuickBooks Online is a cloud-based product that could be the perfect solution for your farm accounting software needs. QuickBooks Online provides anytime, anywhere access to your bookkeeping records, and it also allows your accountant or outsourced bookkeeper to assist you without having to host the software on a remote server — an option that often costs $60 per user per month or more.
Since QuickBooks Online is cloud-based, you don’t have to worry about backing up your data in order to protect your accounting files from a hard drive crash. Your data is always safely stored in multiple locations, far away from your farm office, at no additional cost.
Like QuickBooks Desktop, QuickBooks Online is not farm-specific, but you can easily customize the chart of accounts and native reports to give you the data you need to make wise business decisions about your farm and to produce the information your accountant needs at tax time. And as an added bonus, QuickBooks Online includes a receipt capture feature, making record retention easier than ever.
QuickBooks Online pricing starts at $40 per month for the Essentials plan (perfect for small farms) or $70 per month for the Plus plan (required for more complex farming operations). Large farming enterprises might benefit from QuickBooks Online Advanced ($150 per month). Additional payroll functionality for all three options starts at $45 per month plus $4 per employee per month.
Farm Biz and Ultra Farm Accounting: Best farm-specific accounting software
If you don’t want to customize an accounting solution to work for your farm bookkeeping, but instead want to choose an accounting solution created specifically for farm businesses, check out Farm Biz. This no-bookkeeping-experience-required software has a specially designed chart of accounts for your farming business. You don’t need to understand bookkeeping or accounting to use the software, either.
Farm Biz is a desktop-based farm accounting software, meaning you don’t have to have an internet connection to use it. Just make sure you have a good backup protocol in place to protect you from accidental data loss. There is a one-time purchase price of $249 for Farm Biz, making it the most cost-effective solution on our list.
If you need more robust features than those included in Farm Biz, their sister product — Ultra Farm Accounting — is a good next-step-up option. Ultra Farm Accounting includes more customized reporting like livestock analysis and your Schedule F for your tax return. Payroll is also included for the $550 purchase price.
FarmBooks: Best farm accounting software for reporting
Robust reporting can help you make informed business decisions about your farm, and FarmBooks Accounting Software has the most robust reporting of all the farm accounting software we analyzed. With nearly 20 reports built into the software, you can easily access farm-specific reports to see how your farm is performing and make adjustments proactively. Your Schedule F is included in these reports, making tax time a snap.
FarmBooks has robust support and training options and also provides remote support to help you make sure you are using this farm accounting software correctly and getting the maximum benefit from all the features. They also offer offsite backups (FarmBooks is a desktop-based solution) starting at $5 per month.
FarmBooks costs $395 for a single farm, plus an $85 yearly maintenance fee. If you have more than one farm, you can contact them for special pricing.
Receipt Bank: Best for record retention in conjunction with farm accounting software
Although it’s not accounting software per se, Receipt Bank is essential to help you manage your record retention requirements. With just your cell phone and the Receipt Bank app, you can snap pictures of receipts and documents and know they will be safely stored in the cloud for later use and review. This eliminates the hassle and stress of keeping — and finding — your important financial documents at tax time, during an audit or while applying for financing for your farm.
If you are using a QuickBooks product, you can integrate Receipt Bank with it to save you hours each month on data entry. But even without integration to accounting software, Receipt Bank is well worth the starting price of $12.50 per month.
A version of this article was first published on Fundera, a subsidiary of NerdWallet.