September 2018 KFMA Newsletter (Web Version)
Welcome to the Kansas Farm Management Association (KFMA) E-Newsletter! The KFMA E-Newsletter is sent quarterly throughout the year to update KFMA members and others interested in KFMA work on new research being conducted, new publications available, Economist spotlights, upcoming events, and much more!
The newsletter is free to subscribe to. To subscribe, click here or contact Mary Huninghake at email@example.com or 785-532-1506 to get on the list. Questions or feedback can be directed to Anthony Ruiz, KFMA Professional Development Officer, at firstname.lastname@example.org; or Kevin Herbel, KFMA Executive Director, at email@example.com.
Kevin Herbel- KFMA Administrator
Articles in this issue of the KFMA Newsletter discuss income tax management in the new era of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) and ask you to consider how you make machinery management decisions for your operation. Decisions made today, related to these and other areas of management, will impact your farm and your family’s future.
New tax legislation – articles addressing how to manage within these new rules
In one of these articles, Craig Althauser examines how tax management decisions look different with the TCJA in place and considers the tax planning process in a time of lower income for many farms. Chelsea Fullerton and Amy Boline provide an assessment of the new depreciation rules in the TCJA, exploring the many changes and complexity brought about, including how machinery trades will affect taxable income much differently than what we have been used to.
Machinery and equipment costs
How do you make machinery related decisions on your operation? Do you understand your machinery costs and the impact of machinery replacement decisions on your financial position? Travis Heiman discusses crop machinery investment and crop machinery cost, looking at some of the factors to consider as you manage this important part of your farm efficiently.
Decisions made today will impact your farm and family’s future. Your opportunity to make those decisions well, will be greatly enhanced if you have a good set of records, if you understand your financial position and if you can assess the impact of a decision accurately. Let us know if we can help you manage effectively today and for your future
Craig E. Althauser - Northeast KFMA Economist
As we progress through this period of challenging economic times for Kansas farms and ranches, we have been handed some new tools that can be used to help us manage income and self-employment taxes. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) was signed into law on December 22, 2017, containing several provisions that will enable farm families to more efficiently manage their tax situations now and in the coming years. As displayed in the graph on the following page, average annual statewide Kansas Farm Management Association (KFMA) net accrual farm incomes plummeted in 2015 and have remained at low levels since. We are now well into the fourth year of this lower income period. Accordingly, when managing income and self-employment taxes now, we should be open to utilizing tools and tax attributes differently than we do in higher income years.
The TCJA implements several significant—even structural—changes to the tax code. Included among these are the elimination of personal exemptions, the substantial increase (near-doubling) of standard deductions, an expansion of the child tax credit (in amount, refundable portion, and income limits), creation of a new 20% “Qualified Business Income” (QBI) deduction, and extensive changes in depreciation rules for farmers. Add in tax rate changes and many more modifications not mentioned here and you can see why TCJA is being described as the most sweeping tax bill passed by Congress in the last 30 years. (For a detailed dissection of TCJA, see “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” by Mark Dikeman in the March 2018 KFMA Newsletter.)
Before discussing the usage of some of the tools TCJA gives us to manage tax, a brief review of the concept of tax management would be helpful. Put concisely, tax management should attempt to remove the upper income from very good years, raise the troughs of very poor years, and align taxable income levels from year to year. Recall that not only income tax should be managed, but also self-employment tax (Social Security and Medicare taxes for self-employed individuals). Also remember that Social Security benefits are based upon the level of income on which self-employment taxes are paid over the working life of the individual. The 35 highest earning years (after accounting for inflation) are used to determine the Social Security retirement-related benefit. Intuitively, managing taxes in such a manner as to simply reduce the net income reported on the tax return each year—and therefore the taxes paid—to as low a value as possible is not an efficient tax management method. Net return after taxes is a much more important measure than taxes paid. Also, as returns to agriculture are by nature volatile over time, it is vital to implement tax management with a multi-year mindset. That is, recognize that decisions made regarding the current income tax year directly affect future years as well (and not just the following year, either). Tax management should be implemented with an eye toward using the tax attributes you have available in the most efficient manner possible over multiple years. Manage your tax tools and attributes (deductions, deferrals, flexible depreciation rules, prepays, etc.) like you would your farm assets. Use them efficiently, do not waste them, and definitely do not allow the process of tax management to alter the enterprises on your farm or ranch, or how you get things done.
In a lower income year, techniques employed to manage taxes are used very differently than they are in high income years. Be prepared for a different mindset concerning tax management this year if you are working through a low income 2018. Instead of advancing expenses into the current year, deferring income into the following year, or aggressively electing to deduct additional depreciation from machinery purchases via Section 179, you may be employing the opposite techniques in order to prop up this year’s taxable income to a level similar to your recent past levels. In low income years, avoiding an overall loss of the tax return (a net operating loss, or NOL) is nearly always advisable, if possible. It is true that NOL’s can be carried forward and utilized in future years, but in doing so some deductions are often lost and the NOL does not reduce any self-employment tax in the years to which it is carried. Also, attempting to fill the lower income tax brackets that you have traditionally filled is often beneficial. Remember, you will not receive a wider bottom tax bracket next year just because you didn’t fill the current year’s bottom bracket.
One of the areas of significant change brought on by TCJA is that of depreciation. These changes result in most farm machinery being depreciated in more of a frontloaded manner and sometimes even over a shorter depreciable life. (See “New Depreciation Rules” by Amy Boline and Chelsea Fullerton in this issue of the KFMA newsletter for a complete breakdown of these depreciation changes.) In a low-income year, it is helpful to review significant repairs made and supplies purchased to determine if any of these expenses should be capitalized instead of immediately deducted as repairs or supplies. Doing so gives you options. You can accelerate all or a portion of the purchase via Section 179 if the expense is necessary in the end to manage your tax situation, but you can instead leave the item on your depreciation schedule, effectively pushing deductions (the depreciation expense not deducted in the current year) forward, when the hope is they will be able to be better utilized. Importantly, the depreciation rule changes in TCJA make this a bit of an easier decision. This is so because the depreciation—if not accelerated via Section 179 in the year of purchase—will be deducted more rapidly now and possibly over fewer future tax years.
The TCJA also made drastic changes affecting machinery trades. (Again, see “New Depreciation Rules” by Boline and Fullerton in this issue for more detail on this.) Due to these changes, one may be inclined to utilize Section 179 to the extent that Schedule F is driven negative in order to offset the taxable gain now resulting from the machinery trade (a result of the changes brought by TCJA). However, the act of driving Schedule F negative should be investigated thoroughly before actually doing so. It is often beneficial to avoid a negative Schedule F, even if it means landing in a higher tax bracket than you historically have. This is so for several potential reasons. First, if Schedule F is negative, the last depreciation dollars expensed via Section 179 that made F negative did not reduce self-employment tax at all. In other words, once Schedule F drops to zero, you are already at the point where no self-employment tax is paid (other than a possible minimal elected amount). Those depreciation dollars that made Schedule F negative only reduced income tax, not self-employment tax. If, instead, less depreciation was deducted via Section 179 and Schedule F was not reduced below zero, the ability to utilize those saved depreciation dollars in future years to (hopefully) reduce income tax AND self-employment tax could very well more than offset the added income tax burden from a higher tax bracket.
This is also where the new 20% “Qualified Business Income” (QBI) deduction comes into play. Without going into detail on the mechanics of this deduction, by keeping Schedule F at least up to a net of zero (and not negative), the QBI deduction would nearly always be greater than if F was negative. Additionally, the possible usage of Farm Income Averaging if you end up in a higher tax bracket than you have recently adds potential value to this technique. Finally, possible deductions for health insurance and certain retirement account contributions are tied to having a positive Schedule F. All these tax attributes make it extremely important to scrutinize the decision to use Section 179 to drive Schedule F negative, even if it is to offset now-taxed gains arising from machinery trades that were not present under previous tax law.
Managing income and self-employment taxes requires the knowledge of all tax tools and attributes available to you and seems to grow ever more complex. Also, the techniques employed in low income years are very different than those utilized in high income years. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act adds some tools that will help us in the area of tax management, but also adds complexity to the process at the same time.
Travis Heiman - Northeast KFMA Economist
Crop machinery cost is defined as the crop share of repairs, fuel, machine hire, machinery and motor vehicle depreciation, farm share of auto expense, and an interest charge on machinery investment less custom work income. Although it isn’t as simple as comparing seed or fertilizer cost to your neighbors, it is a useful metric to measure as it will indicate whether or not you are efficient with the equipment you currently have.
Although crop machinery cost will rise and fall based on the manager’s ability to manage expenses, there are some expenses the manager has very little influence over. For example, in 2017 the average KFMA farm across the state of Kansas spent $11.24 per harvested acre on gas-fuel-oil, while in 2013 the average farm spent $18.28. That is a decline of nearly 40 percent due to an external force over which farmers had little control other than making substantial changes to the production practices on the operation.
Although farmers don’t have the ability to control all expenses, they can exert some control on the amount of investment their operations have in machinery. Crop Machinery Investment can be defined as the investment each farm has in machinery and equipment allocated to the crop portion of their business.
Below is a table displaying 2017 crop machinery investment and crop machinery cost per harvested acre for KFMA farms across the state of Kansas. Operations with a value of farm production (VFP), measured by total accrual gross farm income less accrual feed purchases, between $1,000,001 and $1,250,000, had the highest crop machinery investment per harvested acre, as well as, the highest machinery cost per harvested acre. Farms with a VFP equal to or less than $100,000 had the lowest crop machinery investment and cost per harvested acre.
VFP Range ($)
Crop Machinery Investment
Crop Machinery Cost per
100,001 - 250,000
250,001 - 500,000
500,001 - 750,000
750,001 - 1,000,000
1,000,001 - 1,250,000
Although it is easy to assume farms with the lower level of crop machinery investment will be more profitable than farms with a higher investment per acre, this simply is not always the case. It depends on the farmer’s ability to manage those assets/expenses along with management of their other resources. One farmer may be more mechanically inclined than another; therefore, he chooses to purchase older equipment that may require more attention than newer equipment. However, this isn’t always the case.
As shown in the chart on the following page, an increased level of machinery investment doesn’t always lead to lower repair bills. Both Farmer A & Farmer B are in the same county and operate a similar number of acres in 2017. According to this snapshot Farmer A is better able to control his machinery investment and the cost of operating the equipment, including having lower machinery repairs per acre.
Crop Machinery Repair
Crop Machinery Investment
Crop Machinery Cost
KFMA NE Avg
Many farms are in the position where they could increase the number of acres farmed without increasing the amount of machinery investment. Responding to an opportunity to increase the number of acres farmed would increase the efficiency of their equipment. Otherwise said, with many farms having more machinery than their current operations really need, and if an expansion opportunity isn’t on the horizon, it may be a wise decision to try and decrease their machinery investment. Particularly in a time of tight margins, this should receive serious consideration for many farm managers.
Recently, I spoke with a producer regarding his current investment in machinery and the direct impact it had on his operation. He was very pleased to find out his investment was lower compared to his peers. One of the reasons his costs are lower is he is willing and able to work on most of his machinery himself. When asked about his approach to purchasing equipment he said, “figure out what you want to own, then find the cheapest one of those.” This philosophy has guided him to own vehicles with more miles and equipment with more hours, and to do so cost effectively.
In closing, many factors influence a farmer’s decision regarding an equipment purchase. How these factors influence the necessary decisions will have a lasting impact on his/her operation. As outlined in this article there is more than one way to manage machinery cost; once you have determined your strengths, leverage those to the best of your ability..
Chelsea Fullerton and Amy Boline - Northeast KFMA Economists
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) was passed in December of 2017 and took effect as of January 1, 2018, with some changes being retroactive to 2017. Although there are many changes, this article will focus on the depreciation changes and how farm businesses will be affected.
Under the prior tax law, the depreciable recovery period was 7 years for both new and used machinery and/or equipment. Now, under the TCJA, the recovery period is 5 years for new equipment and 7 years for used equipment. This 5-year recovery period goes into effect for any equipment purchased after December 31, 2017 for original use. Along with this change, the 150-percent declining balance method is no longer required for farm machinery and equipment. The default method for farm machinery is now 200-percent declining balance, with only 15 and 20-year life property maintaining the 150-percent declining balance as the standard method.
Under the old law, the expense method depreciation (commonly referred to as Section 179 expense) deduction limit was $510,000 on up to $2,030,000 of purchases. Under the TCJA, the Section 179 deduction limit is $1,000,000, applicable on up to $2,500,000 of purchases. Using Section 179 is a taxpayer election. Section 179 allows for more flexibility in reaching a desired taxable income if a farmer elects out of bonus depreciation.
The TCJA allows for 100% special (Bonus) depreciation for new or used property and farm buildings. Prior to this, the bonus depreciation election was 50% in 2017 and was set to decrease each following year until phased out. This change took effect for any property acquired and placed in service after September 27, 2017. The new 100% bonus will be applicable on equipment placed in service after December 31, 2017, and it will begin to phase out starting on equipment placed in service in 2023. The same bonus election must be made for all items of the same class (i.e. 5-year or 7-year property) purchased within the same tax year. Under the TCJA, if both new and used equipment are purchased in a tax year, they will now be in separate classes, allowing for separate bonus elections to be available.
Like-kind exchanges will be treated very differently under the TCJA. Under the old tax law, only the trade difference was accounted for when exchanging (trading) machinery. Under the TCJA, the machine that is traded in will now be treated as a sale for income tax purposes, creating income to be shown. The full purchase cost of the new machine is now available for depreciation expense.
Farmer Joe (a single farmer) trades an old piece of machinery for a new piece of machinery worth $250,000. The dealership gives Joe a trade allowance of $100,000 for the old piece of machinery, leaving a trade difference of $150,000. Net farm income before depreciation is $100,000. The table below shows some of the differences under the new tax law as compared to the prior law.
Price of New Equipment
Price of New Equipment
Depreciable Basis of
Depreciable Basis of
Net Farm Income
Net Farm Income
Gain on Form 4797
Gain on Form 4797
Under the TCJA rules, the old equipment will be “sold” for the trade allowance amount on Form 4797 and the new equipment will be set up on depreciation for the full, gross purchase price. The depreciation expense will appear on Schedule F over the depreciable life of the asset. In this example, Section 179 was used to net out the “gain” from the sale that was reported for the trade allowance. However, in doing this, net farm income on Schedule F has been pushed negative. This change has the potential to affect many things including self-employment tax paid, self-employed health insurance deductions, the Earned Income Credit, and SEP/SIMPLE/IRA contributions.
If a producer is trading equipment each year, this aspect of the TCJA has the potential to cause long-term issues. The TCJA allows for a new deduction, generally equivalent to 20% of business income, not including capital gains, with some stipulations. In our case of potential negative farm income in large trade years, operators may not be able to utilize this deduction, along with other aspects listed above.
In summary, the TCJA applies many changes to depreciation. Section 179 increased to $1 million for up to $2.5 million of purchases, allowing for more flexibility in reaching a target income or tax bracket. New and used equipment are now placed in two different classes, 5-year and 7-year property, respectively. Bonus depreciation can be used for both new and used equipment but has been increased to 100% for equipment placed in service after December 31, 2017, and before January 1, 2023. One of the largest changes that will affect farmers is that personal property is no longer eligible for like-kind exchange. Any trades will now be considered a sale of the old piece of equipment and a complete purchase of the new piece of equipment at the gross purchase price. While the net taxable income result may be similar, this has the potential to affect a variety of other deductions and credits. Some of these depreciation changes may be beneficial to farmers, while others could have potentially detrimental effects in the long-run. Regardless of the end result, these changes add more layers of complexity to income tax planning and decision making for farmers.
South Central KFMA Association’s spotlight on Ag Economist Aaron Meisenheimer comes at you fast! Aaron is the newest team member in the Hutchinson office. He has blazed a trail since the starting pistol fired about a year and half ago.
Aaron is a native of Pretty Prairie, Kansas. He grew up the youngest of three children on a family farm focused on grain production. A gifted athlete, Aaron competed in cross country races in high school and then in college at Southwestern Baptist University, SBU, in Bolivar, Missouri. He graduated from SBU with a Business Management Degree in 2016. Afterwards, he worked on his family farm operation and served as a tax preparer in Kingman.
Since joining the KFMA team as an Associate Economist, Aaron has enjoyed building relationships with members, helping them grow their businesses, and learning from them in the process. His background in production agriculture, and extensive experience on a family farm, has helped build a connection with members and proven fruitful as he walks beside producers thinking through decisions on their own operations. This, coupled with Aaron’s education, have made him a valued team member embodying KFMA’s core values of relationship, integrity, service, and excellence.
Aaron is an avid traveler. Whether running trails, taking his road bike for a spin, or hopping a plane to another country, he enjoys seeing the sights and sounds this world has to offer. During down time Aaron often reads novels and books focusing on history or other deep subjects. Within the last six months, Aaron married his wife Kayla, an elementary teacher, and was advanced from an Associate to a full KFMA Economist.
KFMA is thankful Aaron is on our team supporting farmers and ranchers across the state. His, and our other Ag Economist’s, passion for serving producers and commitment to excellence have made a mark across Kansas, and look to continue doing so in the future.
For over a year, Southeast KFMA Association members have been served by Devyn Huggans. Devyn is a native of Geneseo, Kansas who has brought her background in farming and passion for accounting to members in Cowley, Chautauqua, Elk, and Woodson counties.
Raised on a multi-generation family crop farm in Rice County, Devyn is very familiar with yearly ebbs and flows on farms, and the cycles commodities tend to follow. She graduated from K-State University with a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Accounting. Before joining KFMA in the El Dorado office, Devyn worked as an auditor in an accounting firm in Wichita. She sees accounting as the backbone of farm management and crucial to helping producers make wise decisions.
Devyn enjoys helping farmers and ranchers plan their operation’s current and future directions. Each season is unique and she appreciates the variability of the job and the operations she works with on a daily basis. Seeing experienced operators plan farm succession, and beginning producers made strides forward with growth, have been especially rewarding to her in the recent months.
When she isn’t working with producers, Devyn has a wide array of activities she enjoys. First and foremost is spending time with her husband, Loren, a police officer and firefighter, and their daughter, Alayna, the boss of the house. Devyn learned many skills while growing up in Geneseo and still enjoys crocheting, cooking “country home food,” and reading a historical book today.
KFMA is proud to have Devyn on the team serving our over 2,200 members across the state! She has jumped head first and made a positive impact for her members already. If you have not met Devyn, give her a call, ask about her proficiency with American Sign Language, or inquire as to the secret to her famous ham and dumplings recipe..
The following research articles can be found on the KFMA webpage (www.AgManager.info/kfma/research-articles) or look under “KFMA Research”. Each newsletter will feature new publications that are available.
Mark Dikeman – Kansas Farm Management Association, Robin Reid – K-State Agricultural Economics
Cash flow is crucial to paying bills as they are incurred, servicing debt, and managing fiduciary agreements. Determining when and how much cash will be required throughout the year can add operational continuity and reduce credit problems. KFMA’s Mark Dikeman and K-State’s Robin Reid teamed up to develop a handy Excel tool to help producers project cash flows and more effectively manage finances.
Kevin Herbel – Kansas Farm Management Association
KFMA Executive Director, Kevin Herbel, sat down with K-State’s Agriculture Today host Eric Atkinson to talk about farm financial indicators, managing operating debt, crop enterprise profit differences, and net farm incomes with due consideration to USDA program payments. Released fresh on the heels of KFMA’s enterprise summaries, Kevin and Eric dig deeper into 2017 data and discuss how it can be used to look towards 2018 decisions and beyond.
Robin Reid – K-State Agricultural Economics, Kevin Herbel and Mark Dikeman – Kansas Farm Management Association
Managing the financial side of a farm business is critical to success, especially in today’s environment of market volatility. Evaluating the growth and progress over time, as indicated by financial ratios, can give insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the operation. Benchmarking against similar farms can also help managers assess their current financial position and shape future goals. The “KSU-Farm Financial Benchmarking Tool” was created by Robin Reid, Kevin Herbel and Mark Dikeman to help producers gauge where they are and plan accordingly. Check it out at AgManager.info.
Gregory Ibendahl – Kansas Farm Management Association
As farms add acres, assets and equity increase as well. Retained earnings and additional contributions of capital add to the mixture. One question facing those working with farm families is how quickly are the asset and equity base of a farm changing? Understanding the dynamics between assets and equity and how it changes over time is critical. Dr. Gregory Ibendahl looks at this in his recent article on AgManager.info.
Allen Featherstone – K-State Agricultural Economics
Dr. Featherstone and Dr. Langemeier team up once again to discuss trends in credit quality and the current distribution of credit quality ratings for farms participating in the KFMA program. Using financial ratios to measure the probability of default for each farm from 1973 to 2017 was computed and summarized. The results can be found at FarmDocDaily’s website (link shown above). Dr. Featherstone was a featured speaker at the 2018 Extension Outlook Conference. His talk featured KFMA data used for charts and graphics to illustrate the current and potential future Farm Financial Situation. From default risk, to production costs, and possible crop mix shift, Dr. Featherstone shares his insight from over 22 years of experience and KFMA data. This and other presentations from the 2018 Extension Outlook Conference are posted on AgManager.info for your convenience.
Allen Featherstone – K-State Agricultural Economics, Micheal Langemeier – Purdue University
Liquidity measures help gauge whether a farm, or group of farms, can meet short-term debt obligations. In addition to examining average liquidity values over time, most analysts want to know how many farms fall below specific liquidity thresholds. Dr.’s Featherstone and Langemeier examine differences among KFMA farms with continuous data from 1998 to 2017.
Beth Yeager – K-State Agricultural Economics, Micheal Langemeier – Purdue University
This article examines trends in the operating profit margin for a sample of farms over a ten-year period and develops financial performance benchmarks. Specifically, using KFMA whole-farm data for farms with continuous data from 2008 to 2017, the operating profit margin ratio is computed for each farm and year. In addition to developing a benchmark for the operating profit margin ratio, expense ratio benchmarks are discussed.
Beth Yeager – K-State Agricultural Economics, Micheal Langemeier – Purdue University
This article examines the persistence of financial performance measures for a sample of farms over a five-year period. Specifically, using KFMA whole-farm data for farms with continuous data from 2013 to 2017, the operating profit margin ratio is computed for each farm and year. The number of years each farm was in the top and bottom performance quartiles is computed and discussed. Also, the operating profit margin ratio and corresponding farm characteristics are compared across financial performance quartiles. The operating profit margin ratio was computed by adding interest expense and subtracting unpaid family and operator labor from net farm income and dividing the result by value of farm production.
Kansas Farm Management Association, K-State Agricultural Economics, and more
This year’s Risk and Profit Conference in Manhattan was outstanding! Many of you attended in person and contributed to 2018 achieving the third largest attendance. KFMA’s data and team members were on display. Countless presentations included KFMA figures. Numerous graduate student talks focused on their analysis of the dataset. This paired with KFMA Ag Economists and State Staff presenting break-out sessions helped showcase KFMA’s mission to provide improved farm decision making tools and vision to be the premier source of farm-level economic data in the world. For handouts and more from this year’s conference, follow the above link to AgManager.info.
2018 Kansas Crop Insurance Workshop
November 1, 2018 - Salina, KS
This one-day workshop will help crop insurance agents, agricultural lenders, farmers/ranchers, and other financial consultants provide better risk management information and advice to their clients or apply to their farm-ranch.
More information: http://www.agmanager.info/events/kansas-crop-insurance-workshop
2018 Kansas Income Tax Institute
Eight locations between October 30 - December 13, 2018
These two-day tax seminars provide continuing education for tax professionals as well as individuals wanting to better understand tax law.
More information: http://www.agmanager.info/events/kansas-income-tax-institute
For more information about these and other events, visit http://www.agmanager.info/events/ or contact Rich Llewelyn at firstname.lastname@example.org or 785.532.1504. Other events hosted by the Department of Agricultural Economics can be found at http://www.ageconomics.k-state.edu/events/index.html.
Vision: The Kansas Farm Management Association (KFMA), through its affiliation with K-State Research and Extension, will be the valued and trusted provider of integrated data management systems to apply critical thinking and strategic business planning for farm and ranch decision makers; and will be the premier source of farm-level economic data in the world.
Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service K-State Research and Extension is an equal opportunity provider and employer. Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension Work, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, as amended. Kansas State University, County Extension Councils, Extension Districts, and United States Department of Agricultue Cooperating, John D. Floros, Director. September 2016. Robin Reid & Tom Reust.