Planning a graceful exit

Dairy businesses: a how to guide before you exit

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The need for dairy businesses considering an exit might seem obvious but what really needs to be done?

The need for dairy businesses considering an exit might seem obvious but what really needs to be done?

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We asked two experts, Morrows director and accountant Alistair Hamblin, and Rural Financial Counselling Service Victoria North East coordinator Chris Howard.

DAIRY EXITS: We asked two experts advice on how dairy farmers can exit the dairy industry gracefully if they are planning to do so.

DAIRY EXITS: We asked two experts advice on how dairy farmers can exit the dairy industry gracefully if they are planning to do so.

Mr Howard's service is responsible for a quarter of the state and 60 to 70 per cent of its inquiries come from dairy farmers.

"This is my 11th year and there's a level of structural adjustment I've never seen before," Mr Howard said.

He said farmers who were heavily reliant on buying water during the irrigation season or hay would not be viable in 2018/19.

"Most calls we receive are about government support payments or grants and that generally opens up a conversation about the bigger picture," he said.

"The first step is to know your equity and financial performance so you know where you are and how you got there.

"We can help you with sorting out what your key metrics are, with assets and liabilities, profit and loss reports, budgets and cashflow forecasts."

Both farmers and small rural businesses are eligible for free assistance from the Rural Financial Counselling Service (RFCS) in Victoria.

The RFCS works with clients for up to three years, sometimes even longer during changing circumstances and Mr Howard has helped many farmers transition their businesses.

Farmers downsizing their herds or selling either land or water needed to consider whether the business could sustain the change.

"We see plenty of farmers selling assets just to stay afloat when the bank refuses to extend any more finance," he said.

"It can make a lot of sense, driving down debt levels and the cost of production.

"At the same time, you need to look at the impact on income and the future viability of the business."

Those considering selling the herd altogether needed to look at what it takes to fund the farm.

"Know the ongoing fixed costs and whether cropping or other enterprises will support that," he said.

"Sometimes people don't plan through fatigue, emotional fatigue or stress.

"And if their backs are against the wall and the banks are having conversations with them about reducing debt or concerns about servicing them, it can be difficult.

"The RFCS can often provide that channel of communication between the farmer and the bank."

In fact, Mr Howard said, many of the referrals to RFCS come via the banks rather than farmers.

"We're often told people can be reluctant to get in contact because it affects how they feel about their own success," he said.

"There will be a friendly voice at the end of the phone when you ring, so don't hesitate."

Mr Howard said the RFCS was especially helpful for farmers who were applying for government support, including the Farm Household Allowance (FHA).

"The application process for the FHA has improved considerably and if you're well prepared with all the information at hand, it can take just a few hours," he said.

"Trusts and other business structures can bring added complexities though."

Mr Howard wanted to make one last thing clear.

"We don't give advice or recommendations," he said, "we offer the how to, so we don't replace accountants, consultants and lawyers."

READ MORE: Dairy farmers planning to exit the industry can access support

READ MORE: Milk production in Northern Victoria could halve again in five years

One financial advisory service and accountancy firm, Morrows, is no stranger to farmers making big decisions.

Mr Hamblin said failure to plan and get advice can produce poor outcomes.

"There are a number of tax concessions available if planned correctly, particularly Small Business CGT Concessions," he said.

"In many cases, subject to passing a range of tests, Capital Gains Tax can either be reduced substantially or completely removed on a sale of the farm enterprise.

"Similarly, with appropriate advice, exiting farmers selling the farm can often make significant superannuation contributions - the Small Business CGT Concessions being a case in point.

"In cases where the exit involves sale of assets to other family members such as succession to children, planning is also required to assess the applicability of exemptions from land transfer duties."

The different categories of assets farmers typically sell when exiting dairying include livestock, plant and equipment, land, leasehold improvements, stocks and water rights.

In some cases, farmers may also have Farm Management Deposits, which will need to be matured.

Mr Hamblin said each of the asset classes would have different tax impacts and applicability in the tax concessions and tests.

"For example, certain asset classes will produce ordinary taxable income (primary production classification if that has been applying to the taxpayer)," he said.

"Others such as land will generally produce capital gains which in some cases may be tax free but in other cases will generally by taxed at a 50pc discount to ordinary income."

The structure of the dairy business was also important, Mr Hamblin explained.

"Business structures are the basic framework that determines who the ultimate taxpayer is," he said.

"Individual, partnerships of individuals and trusts with individuals as beneficiaries will generally see the taxable income and capital gains end up in the hands of individuals who will bear the tax at relevant tax rates.

"Where capital assets such as land are held in company structures, the 50pc general discount normally applying for CGT will not be obtained and a complex wind up would be required to recover some of the benefit lost."

Mr Hamblin said farmers who exited with a surplus could consider investing in superannuation.

"Under the Small Business CGT Concessions, provisions allow for substantial investment of proceeds (and taxable income and gains) into superannuation funds or rollover into replacement assets as part of the process of removing tax consequences," he said.

"Naturally, the rules are complex and expert advice is strongly recommended. Investment of surplus funds should always be subject to advice from licensed and qualified professional financial advisors."

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