Get In Touch

Legal Articles

In the Field: Key Takeaways from the Bend Agricultural Event

November 4, 2016


Last week, Schwabe held its second annual In the Field Ag Seminar in Bend, OR. The event was co-sponsored by Harvest Capital Company and Geffen Mesher.

The theme of the day was Running Your Farm Like a Business. The aim was to provide ideas and information about ways attendees can be successful using the tools and assets they already have at their disposal.

Presentations by three panels included lawyers, accountants, lobbyists, and Oregon farmers, who could speak from specific experiences they have encountered. 

Topics included:

  • How to Comply With New Labor and Employment Laws with Limited Resources 
  • Using Tools You Already Have to Grow Your Business 
  • Finding and Expanding the Monetary Value in Water Rights, Low-Value Timber and Working Lands 

Speakers provided many useful tips for attendees.  Here is a sampling of some:

Be aware of how you label your employees. There are many situations that could classify a worker as an employee, even if you consider him or her to be an independent contractor. A person can be an employee even if he or she only works for you for a single day. If that person files an unemployment claim and says he or she was an employee, you may owe back payroll taxes and other fees. Some tests to determine if he or she is an independent contractor include evaluating whether the person is:

  • Free from direction and control of the means and manner of providing the service (can do the job in the way he or she wants and has control over hours)
  • Customarily engaged in an independently established business
  • Licensed (if services require one) and is responsible for getting the license on his or her own
  • Based at a separate location
  • Advertising his or her business services

If a person is coming to you for direction and supervision, he or she likely is not an independent contractor. The IRS is more aggressively pursuing 1099 reporting to bring independent contractors into compliance for reporting all income. Obtain a completed W-9 from the contractor before you pay him or her, and be sure it includes his or her EIN and SSN. Even if he or she claims to be a corporation, have him or her mark the box saying so.

Create an employee handbook. Even the smallest farming operation can benefit from a handbook. A farmer shared her handbook, which consists of three pages including information such as attendance policies, when employees will get paid, accident prevention and the maximum speed to drive on a neighboring farm to avoid complaints. Her handbook came about as a result of a specific incident where the first question asked was: “What does your handbook say?”  It helps to have this information in writing.

Financial structure is key. Understanding where you are financially enhances communication with professionals, including bankers and CPAs, and provides the ability to make good, well-informed decisions for the future of the operation. It is a good idea to create a correlating fair market value balance sheet with assets such as real estate, crops, livestock, etc., in addition to the financial statement showing depreciated values. Try to do this each year at the same time. Maintain a log of annual events: Were there issues with crop yields or a field you didn’t get planted?  Was there an unusual weather trend?  Use this information to match up with your tax returns so if you, or a lender, wanted to make a decision about whether to purchase something or invest in something, you will know what happened in a certain year that may have created an anomaly. Review financial information at least quarterly and involve the next generation and key decision makers in these reviews.

Track your assets and how they perform. One panelist provided detailed pivot graphs used by their beef and hay ranch to track hay production.  The pivots are coded by type and location. The family uses an app on their phones that allows them to see if a pivot is stuck. They issue their buyers hay tickets that list the type of product, number of bales and tons, allowing the family to know at any given moment not only how much they have sold, but also how much they have remaining. They also code their beef cows by color and number, allowing them to track information about each cow, such as if she stayed open, and then they make informed decisions in the future based on this data, much of which they keep in Excel spreadsheets.

Educate your employees.  Don’t underestimate the power of continuous learning. Some of the speakers explained that they send their farm and ranch staff to annual conferences, such as the World Ag Expo in California. Often, they return with ideas of things to implement on the farms to gain efficiencies. Talk to your neighbors. They may be using other techniques you could learn from.

Look at alternative products. Panelists discussed significant new opportunities to improve irrigation efficiencies, create revenues from hydropower, and Oregon’s conserved water program, which allows water to be conserved and moved to new locations without a new water right.  They also discussed biochar, a fine grained charcoal that is used as a soil amendment, as a biofilter medium and for carbon sequestration. Biochar is being applied as an experiment in certain areas in northeastern Oregon, and may have significant potential both as a means to use low-value timber by-products and as a soil amendment. 

Below is a list of the topics and panelists, including their contact information if you would like additional information.


  • ‎How to Comply With New Labor and Employment Laws with Limited Resources 
    - Melissa Carlgren, CPA, Geffen Mesher,, (503) 445-3339
    - Amanda Gamblin, Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt,, (503) 796-2903
    - Betsy Earls, Associated Oregon Industries,, (503) 588-0050
    - Brenda Frketich, Kirsch Family Farms, Inc.‎, (503) 633-4772 
  • Using Tools You Already Have to Grow Your Business 
    - Royce Ann Simmons, Harvest Capital Company,, (503) 263-6616
    - Sheryden Cary, ACW Inc.,, (541) 573-3615
    - Bill Smith, William Smith Properties Inc. and GI Ranch Corp.,, (541) 382-6691
    - Melissa Carlgren, CPA, Geffen Mesher,, (503) 445-3339 


Related Industries