(Editor's note: meet the panelists below)
Hawaii or Bust! Or not?
Question from reader: I made the mistake of telling my wife I saved $6,000 on seed by switching companies and cutting back on soybean seeding rate. She talks about the dream of a vacation to Hawaii we always wanted to take before we have kids almost every night. Is this a wise use of money saved on inputs?
DUINTEMAN: What does your family budget say? You are only going to be alone with your spouse until you have children. After children you will have obligations and it will be much harder to get away. Look at the cash flow of the family and of the business and make a joint decision with your spouse.
HAYHURST: My husband would tell me the $6,000 farm savings is just that—for the farm. He would encourage me to keep setting aside money in the family budget for dream vacations. Consider having one if you take a part-time, off-farm job just for the purpose of paying for an Hawaiian trip.
HESS: Will she give the money back if the tractor needs $6,000 more than you expected for a transmission repair? Do not put personal decisions in the box with business decisions. If you want a dream vacation, save for it and plan for it and put it in the household budget. This is not to say if the business has an exceptional year you can't pay a bonus, but do not endanger the business cash flow and working cash account.
TAYLOR: Deciding on the level of living expenses on a farm is always a challenge, and to decide always to spend more or to spend less is never wise. I would base my decision on overall farm income and divorce it from the saving from an individual business decision because it is usually easy to find another offsetting less-clever business decision that tends to balance it out. You have both the business/family spending balance, and the vacation/home basics spending balance to consider. The real issue is where will you get overall family long-term happiness—a great basis for your nightly visits.
(Editor's note from Tom J. Bechman — My answer would be easy—no Hawaiian vacation. It involves flying, and I have a no-fly contract, like John Madden, the former NFL coach and sports announcer, who literally announced games for years, but traveled in an RV, refusing to travel by air. Some day my wife hopes to convince me otherwise so we can take an anniversary vacation somewhere far away, but so far, it's no fly! Irrational fear, probably- but it's real all the same and must be dealt with).
Teach Lesson To Youngster
Question from reader: The neighbor boy down the road is a senior in high school. He drove the tractor last fall and did well. We paid him a token wage. Last week he turned too short and did $2,500 damage to a tillage tool. He parked it and didn't even tell me. Could we hold his parents responsible? What lesson can we teach him?
DUNTEMAN: I would be disappointed that he didn't tell you about the damage. However, attempting to hold the parents responsible will likely generate a lot of ill will and could land you a complaint with your state department of labor. Most state labor laws do not allow you to recoup equipment damage from an employee without his permission. Unfortunately, equipment damage is a hazard of hiring employees. You need to carefully consider your response, but attempting to get payment form the parents is likely not appropriate.
HAYHURST: Holding the boy's parents responsible is not necessarily the answer. This type of equipment issue is something we all deal with when we hire farm help. Talk with the young man about the damage, but emphasize the importance of integrity and honesty. His embracing of those character traits will carry him through many tough patches in the future.
HESS: If he's old enough to be operating your equipment, this is his learning opportunity. Speak to him as soon as possible, and address how he must show responsibility for his actions. All incidents must be reported immediately. Damage and injuries should be documented and field. We have a written policy in our employee manual about sharing damages to buildings and equipment. This is your neighbor boy's opportunity to show what kind of ethics he has.
TAYLOR: You can guess that the boy is mortified by the damage he caused. Give him another chance. If you put him on a machine that took more care and skill than he had, you have the responsibility. Don't put him in the combine yet.
(Editor's note from Tom J. Bechman — I put a 9-foot disk in the fence once as a teenager. My dad let me know he wasn't happy, but helped me get it out. He sent me off again. It's a learning experience. The most disturbing part here is that the boy didn't fess up to what happened. You need to sit him down and get the whole story, and address both how he could have avoided the damage, and what happens if he doesn't tell you next time.)
Darrell Dunteman, ag financial consultant and accountant, Bushnell, Ill.
Susan Hayhurst, farmwife and free-lance writer, who grew up in town many years ago, Terre Haute, Ind
Steve and Phyllis Hess, grain and dairy farmers, Bushnell, Ill.
Robert Taylor, Purdue Farm Management professor, celebrating his 50th year as a classroom teacher, West Lafayette, Ind.