A SIMPLE, inexpensive computer software program may provide solutions for farmers looking for ways to collect and use information more effectively.

Jason Johnson, Texas Extension economist, San Angelo, says a program as simple as Quicken may solve farmers' information overload.

“Quicken is one possibility,” Johnson told seminar participants at the recent Beltwide Cotton Conferences in Anaheim, Calif. “But other software programs may work equally well. Just make certain the program will do what you need it to.”

Johnson said Quicken is not designed specifically for agriculture, “but it is adaptable. It allows farmers to select one system from which they can pull out relevant information and use it for management decisions.”

He said accurate records are essential for several reasons. The most obvious is for tax purposes. “But farmers must realize the difference between tax accounting and managerial accounting,” he said. “For management, they need new layers of information.”

Managerial accounting

Managerial accounting includes information that helps farmers make business decisions. “It shows where money comes from and how it is spent,” Johnson said. “It helps identify profitable enterprises and farm entities. Growers can look at lease rates, income from specific crops, returns from various segments of a farming operation and make comparisons.”

He said computer software allows them to do that.

He likes Quicken because of its simplicity. “It looks like a checkbook,” he said. “It's also inexpensive and readily available, from outlets such as Wal-Mart, for instance. And, although it's not designed specifically for agriculture, we can manipulate it.”

Johnson says the software offers potential for listing income categories, such as cattle, corn, cotton or grain. It also provides for expense categories, such as fuel, fertilizer, land rent, insurance and pesticides.

“Just like a check, the software provides a memo line,” he explained. “Farmers need to use the memo line religiously to record and categorize every transaction.”

Setting up categories and classes is essential to success, he said. A category may be a specific farm or a specific crop. And that category may be further broken down. For instance, Farm A may be one category and cotton from farm A may be a separate entry. No-till cotton from the same farm could be another class. Farmers may detail classes as precisely as variety or planting date.

Accuracy necessary

“Precision is necessary,” Johnson said, “to make accurate comparisons and determine where money is spent and profit is made. The power of categories allows a farmer to take information and use it for management decisions. But they have to be meticulous about logging in the information.”

Johnson says an insurance check, for instance, may cover two crops. “On the memo line, divide the cost into classes,” he said. “If the insurance check is for $1,000, subdivide it the way it's spent. Perhaps $400 for corn and $600 for cotton. That way, when they review income, they can allot specific expenses to specific crops.”

He recommends an overhead class to cover any cost that can't be charged against any one crop or farm entity. “Utilities, for instance, can't be charged against one enterprise and should be put in an overhead or general farm expense category.

“But don't lump too much. If a farmer can assign a cost to a specific crop, he should assign it. And be consistent with categories. It's the specific information included in the memo lines that allow farmers to make comparisons that help with management decisions.”

Johnson said tax reporting is an important aspect of any record-keeping system. “With this program, farmers can flag items that are deductible.”

E-mail: ron_smith@intertec.com

250 crops in state

The Golden State produces about 250 different crops, including seeds, flowers and ornamentals. Its favorable climate allows year-round production of lemons, artichokes, avocados, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, lettuce, mushrooms, spinach and squash.

Beans are one of man's earliest cultivated crops. Most varieties originated in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

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Amazing asparagus can grow 10 inches in 24 hours under ideal conditions, produce for nearly 15 years and generate spears for six to seven weeks of spring and summer.

Gone are the days of the “honeymoon salad” — lettuce alone with no dressing. Today's vast assortment of greens and year-round availability of fresh produce ensure unlimited combinations of ingredients for deliciously interesting salads.

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If all the strawberries produced in California this year were laid berry to berry, they'd wrap around the world 15 times.

According to Egyptian hieroglyphics, the pharaohs loved mushrooms so much that they decreed them food for royalty; commoners were not allowed to eat them. Mushrooms continued to be a royal treat until Louis XIV began to grow them in caves near Paris. Because they are easy to grow and require little labor, mushrooms became a popular crop in France and England. In the late 19th century, people in the United States began to grow them. Today, mushroom cultivation is a profitable segment of California agriculture with a yield per acre of 2.44 million pounds.

You know strawberries are a big deal in California, but did you know just how big? There are more than 26,000 acres producing an average of 10 million pint baskets of the delectable little berries.

What wine goes well with strawberries? Champagne, of course. Be careful when opening that bottle though…Farm Bureau sources report that cork can exit a bottle at speeds up to 62 mph.

California cauliflower is a powerhouse of nutrition. One half-cup serving has 100 percent of the daily requirement of vitamin C plus calcium, potassium, fiber and It's good raw and crunchy or fabulous steamed and served with a sauce made from one of California's great cheeses.

More than 5,000 farmers participate every year in California's 341 certified farmers' markets.

Biotechnology can help farmers feed more people by making plants more nutritious, resistant to pests and diseases, and by extending their shelf life.

Nights are cooler, days are shorter and bears are getting ready to hibernate. Fall is the time to enjoy those good-for-you California comfort foods like potatoes. One of nature's most versatile foods, potatoes provide an abundance of vitamins, minerals and fiber. And they're available in colors: red, white, blue, yellow and purple.

A recent study found that the yellow jelly around tomato seeds keeps platelets in the blood from clumping together and forming killer clots that can block blood vessels. Research continues in the hope this may be an alternative therapy to aspirin, which can cause stomach upsets.

We love salad! Americans eat about 30 pounds of lettuce every year, about five times more than in the early 1900s.

More than 1.7 billion pounds of it are grown on 254,500 California acres. It's eaten plain and stuffed with peanut butter or cream cheese. This crunchy, flavorful vegetable is used in soups, salads and stuffing. What is it? Celery. More of it is sold during the holiday season than any other time of year.

California food processors grow, produce, pack and ship nearly half of the world supply of processed tomato products — 11 million tons — and 100 percent of the canned peaches and black olives for the U.S.