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September 14, 2017

BUSINESS ACUMEN: Accounting Firm Immerses Itself in the Ag Industry

When the accounting firm K·Coe Isom takes on a new client it begins with a meeting designed to delve deep into the company’s operations and culture.

“We approach our clients and the industry a bit differently,” said Laura Sands, a principal in the firm who spearheads the company’s food and agricultural initiatives. “We take a full immersion approach.”

She said to help a firm make the best business decisions, K·Coe believes it needs to know the ins and outs of both the firm and the industry in which it operates. As such, Sands said K·Coe Isom serves more agricultural clients than any other firm, with offices coast to coast. Besides providing all the CPA, financial and tax issue work that one can imagine, the company also lobbies on behalf of the ag industry as it tries to represent the industry’s point of view with regard to the business regulatory environment.

Sands added that the company has expertise in virtually every area of ag business, claiming the firm’s “talent and depth of experience” is second to none. In a nutshell, she said the company’s goal “is to help its customers make better business decisions.” Those can be decisions on estate planning, acquisitions and mergers, investments in infrastructure and even which crops to grow. “We consider ourselves a trusted advisor.”

She said the expertise runs up and down the ag space covering everything from specialty crops to program crops as well as livestock and dairy farming. “We like to say that K·Coe is involved with one out of every four beef cows in the country.”

But Sands said the firm also has great expertise in row crops and permanent crops in all of the major fresh produce production areas in the United States. That knowledge includes expertise in international trade as well as foreign business arrangements. She noted that with a new administration leading the United States, international trade is top of mind and noted that “the jury is still out” as to how this administration will impact trade, especially agricultural trade. “The U.S. ag industry has been one of the big winners in foreign trade,” she added.

One of K·Coe’s principals that even drills deeper into the needs of western agriculture is Tommy Irvine, who is stationed in Chico, California, in an office with more than 65 associates. He said all of the regular accounting services are utilized by ag customers, but they also have special needs unique to the environment in which they farm. For example, he said estate planning makes up a sizable portion of their business simply because property values are so much greater in California than in many other ag communities. “If you farm at all on your own land, chances are the value of your property will put you over the estate tax exclusion level.”

With a handful of offices in California—mostly in the Central Valley—Irvine said permanent fruit and tree fruit crops make up the majority of the firm’s California specialty crop business. “However, we are making more inroads in the Salinas Valley and in row crops.”

He said there are several accounting strategies surrounding foreign sales that a company can utilize to limit its tax exposure. In recent years, those strategies have been used by nut growers extensively.

In analyzing the size firm that can benefit most readily from K·Coe’s help, Irvine says they tend to be mid-sized firms. He noted that smaller operations typically do not have as many complicated issues and the benefit doesn’t always justify the cost to the client. On the other end of the spectrum, large grower-shippers often have in-house experts to handle their needs in this arena. “Our sweet spot is mid-sized firms.”

Using acreage as a barometer, he said those firms typically farm from 1,000 to 10,000 acres. Using money as the measuring gauge, he said a firm should have revenues upwards of about $3 million annually to fully take advantage of K·Coe’s services.

“There are typically lots of issues we can help with for a company of that size,” he said. Often he is called when a firm is at a crossroad. They are trying to expand or are winding down as the principal wants to retire.

Irvine confirmed that the best place to start is with an in-person meeting where K·Coe can learn about the operation and get a sense of where the firm wants to go. “We try to figure out their pain points,” he said.

Sands had a bit broader definition of the firm’s preferred clients. “Our sweet spot is commercial ag businesses…from small growers to large growers.” K·Coe Isom, she said, caters to companies who want to expand and operate optimally, and are looking for new business strategies or to create more opportunity for their ag business.