Most farmers aren’t lawyers, and they couldn’t begin to tell you where to start looking for answers to even the simplest questions about the federal tax laws or estate planning.

Fortunately, there are experts such as Neil E. Harl who spend much of their lives pouring through the minutiae of the state and federal tax codes and have the ability to translate their findings into language producers can understand.

Dr. Harl, who is now emeritus professor of economics at Iowa State University, began college intending to return to the farm after completing his education. But an encounter with an Iowa State economics professor convinced him he wanted to know more about economics and agricultural law.

“He just made it come alive for me,” said Dr. Harl, during an interview at his home in Ames not far from the Iowa State campus. “I had found a field I felt at home in.”

Harl worked for a time as an editor at Wallace's Farmer magazine, writing, among other things, about farm economics and tax issues. In 1973, he was given the opportunity to put 10 or 12 of his articles into a book. That became the start of a career pursuing the ins and outs of federal tax law and estate planning.

This past May, Harl and the Agricultural Law Press published the 16th edition of the book, Farm Estate and Business Planning. The book, which is available in print and online, contains 454 pages that include coverage of the new tax legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Obama last December.

“This edition is rather special,” says Harl, “in light of the tax legislation passed in December 2010.”

The ink on the president’s signature was barely dry when Harl began reviewing the several hundred pages of the new law in late December. Using his years of experience in deciphering such language, he finished the revisions to the text of his book in record time.

“It was three weeks from the time I finished until I had the copies back,” he said. He gave credit to his new publisher, Agricultural Law Press for the rapid turnaround of an extremely complicated document.

Harl said it was important to get the book in the hands of farmers quickly because of the nature of the new legislation. Due to what he refers to as the new reality in Washington, Congress made the new legislation effective through 2012. That gives growers only a few months to make use of the provisions.

“In 1967, I had my first significant involvement in Washington,” he said. “What I saw then was a tremendous amount of bipartisanship that you just don’t see today. No one is willing to give credence to opposing opinions.”

Harl’s latest book contains extensive coverage of the landmark legislation and updates the 26 chapters with recent developments in farm and ranch estate planning and farm and ranch business planning since the 15th edition was published in 2001. The book is written in easy-to-read language and is designed for use by farm and ranch families.