Farm Management Minute: Best secret on the prairie

Lori Tonak
Instructor, South Dakota Center for Farm/Ranch Management

As an instructor with the South Dakota Center of Farm/Ranch Management (SDCFRM) program, I am not sure I am proud of the title of this article. In the past few months, I have signed up a number of new clients and, after working with them the first day, they tell me, “Where were you five years ago?” Hearing these words again, just last week, has driven home the idea that the Farm/Ranch Management program, based out of Mitchell Technical Institute, is the best secret on the prairie! So, I want to break that trend. We want everyone to know what we do for the producers we work with. I was under the assumption the articles that our instructors wrote for various publications were telling our story. Obviously we were wrong, so today I am doing a blatant advertising article.

The objective of the SDCFRM is to provide farmers a better understanding of the business and financial aspects of their farm operation. This is delivered one-on-one at your farm office, kitchen table, wherever you want to meet. The program also stresses confidentiality.

The Center does individualized instruction on computerized accounting systems, goal setting, and keeping accurate production and financial records. Instructors meet with our “students” monthly at their operation and are always just a phone call away. Assistance with cash flows, cost of production, crop/livestock budgets and calculating breakeven prices are just a few of the things instructors can help the client with. At the end of the year, an analysis is run on the whole farm and individual enterprises to help determine the success of the goals set for the past year, and to help set goals for the coming year. SDCFRM also assists the operators in exploring strategies to reduce risk, along with helping for tax preparation and annual renewal meetings with the bank. In fact, bankers love us as it makes their job so much easier!

So, what is the outcome if a farmer/rancher enrolls with the Center? First, the producer is making a commitment of time — to work with an instructor and do monthly accounting — but from that commitment the benefits are many. The balance sheets, cash flows, and income statements required by the financial institutes are more accurate. Bankers tend to be more generous with producers that bring in accurate numbers. Preparing for pre-tax meetings or tax time, in general, takes less time, which can sometimes lead to less expense at the accountant’s office. Identifying strengths and weaknesses of the operation is another benefit. If an enterprise loses money every year, should it be continued? SDCFRM helps identify the profit/loss of those enterprises.

Instructors also share information that has been acquired through their connections with industry, or any other knowledge that may help an individual operation. Sometimes, it is just helpful to use our staff as a sounding board!

SDCFRM currently has three instructors located in eastern and central South Dakota (both sides of the Missouri) but would love to expand to more if the need is there. The Farm Business Management program has been a part of South Dakota agriculture, at a variety of schools, for about 30 years. The SDCFRM program at MTI is the last program left in the state. As an instructor, I would like to see it continue as I know the benefits it has given many producers in those 30 years.

If anything in this article has peaked your interest, give our staff a call. If you are still not sure it is for you, I know a few “students” that would be willing to share why it may be an answer to your prayers. Contact me at 605-299-6762 or email us at