Wisconsin Farm Center
Hiring a Farm Consultant
A farmer needs to make every dollar count. Putting together a top team of professional consultants is critical to today's successful farm business. When employing a professional consultant, a farmer should expect and receive positive results. Taking time to interview a consultant is an important step in establishing a good farmer-consultant relationship.
The publication, "Hiring a Farm Consultant," can be used as a farm management-evaluation tool when a farmer interviews a potential consultant. The guide includes general questions that might be asked of any consultant. Also included are questions that should be of help when interviewing a consultant with specific expertise.
What is a Farm Consultant?
Accountants, nutritionists, veterinarians, milking equipment specialists, attorneys, electricians, crop consultants and farm business management professionals are all examples of farm consultants. A consultant will not "have all the answers," but will offer a level of experience and knowledge that a farmer can find valuable. An effective consultant will also work with others so that the farmer can receive the greatest benefits.
Is a Consultant Needed?
Employing a consultant should be regarded as an investment in the farm business. This investment, which can be expensive, must be considered along with the other needs of the farm business. Many farms or businesses may find it hard to afford a consultant and, even if they could, would not consider it. A consultant can often save money for the farm business or generate income that more than pays for the services. Clearly, a farm needs sufficient cash flow to pay for a consultant.
Here is a list of questions a farmer should ask a prospective consultant:
Hiring a Farm Consultant (general questions)
- What is the consultant's training and experience?
- Does the consultant participate in continuing education/accreditation programs?
- Will the consultant provide a list of farm client references?
- Will written reports of services be provided?
- Does the consultant have an interest in selling a product?
- Is the consultant willing to meet with other members of the farm advisory/management team?
- Are emergency and trouble shooting services available?
- Does the consultant carry liability insurance?
- Will a fee schedule be provided?
Hiring an Accountant
- What certifications are presently held?
- What is the level of agriculture experience with regard to accounting?
- With regard to tax law?
- How does the accountant stay current with farm tax law and accounting procedures?
- Are records management aids offered?
- What accounting options and services are offered (i.e. monthly, year end, etc.)?
- What happens if clients are audited?
- Will the accountant provide records for audits, accompany client for audit or charge extra for audit representation?
- What other management services are offered (i.e. estate planning, retirement planning, investment counseling, enterprise analysis or other services)?
- Does the accountant carry business insurance?
- What is the fee and billing procedure (i.e. commission, hourly or other method)?
Hiring an Attorney
- Is the attorney in good standing with the State Bar of Wisconsin?
- Is the attorney experienced in farm law issues?
- Are business and estate planning services provided?
- Will the attorney's schedule allow time to address the issue?
- Can an estimate be placed on the length of time needed to address the issue?
- Is there a fee for first consultation?
- What are fees and billing procedures (hourly, commission or other method)?Will there be a written fee agreement?
Hiring a Crop Consultant
- Is the consultant a certified crop advisor?
- On what basis will fertilizer and chemical recommendations be made?What services are offered?
- How many scouting trips are planned and at what times of the year?
- Will soil samples be taken?
- What GPS capabilities are offered and what is the level of experience with GPS?
- What recommendations will be offered?
- What type of seed (i.e. varieties, planting depth, population, etc.)?
- What type of herbicides, insecticides, and fertilizers in general (i.e. application, timing, and rates)?
- What types of new herbicide and genetics (i.e. Bt, Roundup Ready, IMI, etc.)?
- What type of tillage?
- What type of timing?
- Other issues of concern, such as compaction?
- Will crop quality and yield be measured?
- What is the fee and billing procedure (i.e. hourly, per acre, contract or other method)?
Hiring an Electrician
- Is the electrician currently state certified?
- Will all wiring be done according to state and national codes?
- Are materials used adequate for the farm environment (i.e. moisture proof, dust tight, UL listed, etc.)?
- Will written estimates be provided?
- Will a written report be provided if the electrician tests for stray voltage and power quality problems?
- Are services available to evaluate and trouble shoot present electrical systems?
- Will itemized statements be provided?
- Is there a good working relationship with the utility if it becomes involved?
- What is the level of training and experience in the areas of stray voltage and power quality issues?
- Are services available off-hours and in emergencies?
Farm Business Management
- Will the consultant develop, coordinate and meet with the farm's advisory team?
- How often will farm visits be scheduled?
- Will assistance be offered when planning for operation changes (i.e. expansion, downsizing, etc.)?
- Are services offered for business plan and feasibility study development?
- What is the level of experience with agricultural and environmental regulations?
- Are employee management programs offered (i.e. training, recruitment, employee handbooks, evaluation or others)?
- What is the level of experience with particular types of operations/styles?
- Are loan packaging services available?
- What is the loan packaging billing procedure (i.e. commission, percentage, hourly or other method)?
Hiring a Milking Systems Specialist
- Will the National Mastitis Council checklist or similar evaluation tool be used?
- Will checklist results be reviewed with the farmer?
- Are service technicians and specialists available off-hours and in emergencies?
- How often will the entire system, including line slope and effective reserve, be checked?
- Will systems analysis be done at milking time?
- After any changes will a service call be made to recheck the system?
- Is regular route service available?
- Are consultation services available for planning business changes?
- Are adequate personnel available to assist with farm expansion or modifications?
Hiring a Nutritionist
- What rations can be balanced for farm enterprises (i.e. swine, poultry, dairy, beef, etc.) and management styles (i.e. confinement, grazing, etc.)?
- How often will feed be sampled and rations balanced?
- What is the ration balancing turnaround time?
- Will rations be balanced and formulated for different age and production groups?
- Will written reports be made for all consultation services?
- Are feed supply and feed inventory services available?
- Will livestock condition be monitored (body scoring) and how often?
- Will information and advice be offered for planning for bulk feed purchases?
- What methods/systems will be used to evaluate and test feed?
- Does the nutritionist also sell a product?
- Will a fee schedule be provided?
Hiring a Veterinarian
- What services are offered (i.e. herd health, bulk tank cultures, small animals, equine, etc.)?
- What are regular hours of service?
- Is service available off-hours and for emergencies?
- Are production medicine services available?
- What surgeries are done on farm?
- What lab work is done in-house?
- Where are reference surgeries and lab work sent?
- How available is staff?
- Regular hours?
- Back-ups available?
- What is fee schedule and billing procedure?