With the launch of ifac’s FarmPro service, we thought it would be a great time for a chat with one of the farmers currently working with the FarmPro advisory team, William McCullagh, to discuss his operation, the FarmPro service, and how it is helping him.
William is a born and bred farmer based in County Cork, down in the south of Ireland. He runs the farm himself, alongside his wife, as well as a full-time farm worker and his parents who still help. He took over the family farm out of college and was running around 80 dairy cows on a smaller block of land with his parents until 2015 when he inherited another block of land.
This new block of land required some serious development in order to farm it, and so William had to pour time and resources into the land. Since then, he has completely re-developed the farm and now runs 300 dairy cows.
Was it a daunting challenge taking on that extra land when so much development and investment was needed?
“It was a big challenge because we had to do a lot of investing in the farm, so that's why initially I went down the road with FarmPro.
“When I took over the farm I had to put in a new milking parlour, new roadways, fencing, sheds, winter housing and more. So after that development, I was heavily borrowed, and that's when ifac suggested the FarmPro service.
We went through the product as a way to manage costs, and since I started using it, its benefited me massively. It was a big change in the way we work, but I’m very happy with it.”
Prior to using FarmPro, did you look at your finances much or do any budgeting?
“We used to just get our accounts done once a year, not much else really. It was just myself trying to control costs, calculating and writing it out myself - but I suppose I never had ever single figure written down in front of me and in a format that's this easy to check”.
William and his family have been with ifac for over 10 years now, and when he took over the new farm, he began to get much more involved with the accountant and take more of an interest in the farm finances. He has now been working with Jerry O’Neil, one of the FarmPro specialist advisors, since the start of the year.
“I’ve been meeting with Jerry every three months, and since then I’ve found that I’m really able to project ahead, and that makes me disciplined in my spending. Now if I want something new I can look ahead to see if I can afford it or not, instead of buying it and then thinking ‘oh no, how will I deal with this’ when I can’t afford it.”
Have you done any planning or is this all new?
“Well I did try it myself but not really - once the figures are down in front of you like this, it makes it easy as you can see it all.
The other side of it is, it really helps you to get more efficient, as with benchmarking you can compare yourself to others and see where you need to tighten up costs where other farms are doing better than you, and also where you are doing better in some areas. So one of the main things is that it makes you more cost-efficient.”
How do you find using the software?
“At the moment I only go into certain parts of the product, I know there is a lot more the software can do, but the main things I have been looking at are the cashflow forecasts, variance report, and benchmarking.
Especially the cashflow forecast which is great as I can see that if I have a bad month, I know whether I can make it up in the next month, which I find really good.
The variance report is great to compare how I’m going against last year which is also good, and also the benchmarking against other farmers is brilliant to show how I’m going compared to others, I really like that.”
What is Jerry like to work with?
“Very good yeah he's great, he's been good at putting some of the accounting into layman's terms which makes it easy to follow everything. Some of the figures in there I was getting confused about, but once he explained it was quite easy."
Lastly, in Irish agriculture, are farmers starting to look at their finances more than they may have used to look at them? Do you think having access to this financial information and software like this is going to improve farming?
“Yeah, I definitely think so, even within my group of friends who are mostly farmers we discuss it. Margins in farming are so tight now, and obviously, we love farming, but we also want to make a profit, so we’re trying to find out where we can make some changes.
What I’ve realised from using this software is that its the little changes across the whole operation that makes the biggest difference.
Unlike other businesses, farming, and in this case dairy farming, you’ll often be cash-rich in the summer which seems great, but when you get to winter and your income goes down, that's where a lot of farmers get caught out.
So with FarmPro, we can look to the future to January/February before calving and say 'ok yes, there is going to be a substantial amount of cash in the bank when we get there'.
One thing with farmers is that we can make a profit, but we need to have cash and manage that cash over the year so we will have it we need it. So the cashflow forecasting part is so important - I have been guilty of it myself, running low on cash when it comes down to the time of year when we need it.
As farmers, we can try and manage this ourselves, but I just think there is so much; so many bills, costs, and other things that you will always miss something and overall you could easily lose €10,000, and that €10,000 comes straight out of your pocket.”
We love hearing from farmers like William, and we want to share their thoughts and experiences with others, and connect those in agriculture across the globe.
It was great to sit down with William and chat through his story and how the FarmPro service is helping him - a big thanks to William for lending us some time to speak and share his thoughts and experience.
If there are any farmers who want to sit down for a chat and share their thoughts, knowledge, and experience, feel free to reach out.