Women’s Roles in Agriculture Grow Strong

ALYSSA COUSE

I recently attended The New York Farm Bureau Young Farmer and Rancher Conference in Albany.  The theme of the meeting was “Young Farmers- The Future Agriculture Superheroes”.  It is no secret that the agriculture industry has experienced volatility in recent years, whether it be changing markets, new regulations, or extreme weather, so investing in the future of the industry is more crucial than ever.  Building versatile, resilient, invested young leaders is becoming more of a focus and as you look around the room, there is no doubt a growing proportion of lip gloss wearing, braid-bearing farmers. 

    The keynote speaker of the conference, Vance Crowe, director of millennial engagement for Bayer Crop Sciences, discussed the importance of telling the story of farming and building relationships with consumers.  It is evident that this is a significant task, even just from the fact that millennial engagement and consumer relations are now job titles within agribusinesses.  More often than not, it is the mother, sister, aunt, etc. on the farm that takes on the role of managing social media pages, community events/tours, and newsletters. Most women have the inherent finesse to connect emotionally in creative ways, which is key to building relationships with consumers these days.  In addition to online or written outreach, many farms today are incorporating more opportunities for visitors to get a hands on experience. 

    Some farms take advantage of their home being a tourist destination and participate in some form of agritourism.  Agritourism involves encouraging visitors to a farm/ranch for any agriculturally based operation.  Activities offered can be equine boarding facilities, u-pick fruit and veggie patches, farm tours, hay rides, petting zoos, and open houses just to name a few! This can also be an extra source of income for farms and an opportunity to diversify from everyday production. Such experiences are quite literally being craved by consumers today as they yearn to learn more about when, where, and how their food came to be.  This need stems most directly from the fact that many young people today are four to five generations separated from the farming lifestyle.  What the agriculture industry once took for granted was the innate trust and knowledge of the food system that once was, when almost every family had a part in the production from dairy farms to road side stands.  Today, less than 2 percent of the population are involved in production farming.  Yes, those 2 percent are feeding themselves and the other 98 percent.  Thus, reestablishing people’s connections to their food and how it was produced is a growing need.

    Agritourism was another area we focused on at the recent conference, specifically the new Safety in Agricultural Tourism Act.  The “Safety in Agricultural Tourism Act,” now part of New York’s General Obligations Law (“GOL”), provides that owners and operators of agricultural tourism areas “shall not be liable for an injury to or death of a visitor if the provisions of General Obligations Law Section 18-303(1)(a) – (e) are met.” Statutory requirements for protection include directional signage, employee training, warning to visitors concerning inherent risks of farm activities, operator provided written information, visitor responsibility signage, posting of notice of right to a refund, and operator duties. In a nutshell, in order to protect visitors and business owners, there must be posted signage stating any potential risks and well trained employees to help ensure safe and enjoyable experiences.  When thinking about compliance for your agritourism business, think like a paranoid mother of a toddler! What can they get into? What could go wrong? Then make a sign warning against those actions.  For example, if guests are able to feed livestock treats, warn them to be cautious of being nibbled, because fingers look a lot like carrots. It is important to make signage specific to the operation and not just post a few general warning signs. To ensure that coverage requirements are met, it is best to work with a lawyer.  

    For more information: https://www.agriculture.ny.gov/Press%20Releases/Inherent_Risk_Guidance.pdf

    Women’s roles in agriculture continue to grow exponentially.  Based on observations of the crowd at recent leadership conferences, you can expect the female voice to become louder throughout the industry in the years to come.  In addition to becoming great farmers, they will become leaders in technology, marketing, and communications.

Benefits of Owning Commercial Real Estate

Kiah Surgue

As a business owner, you should be aware of the many advantages to owning the commercial real estate where your business is located.  In order to pursue owning, you have to have a solid financial profile and a clear vision for growth.  Investors are more apt to lend to businesses with value and assets, combined with a low amount of debt compared to owner’s equity.  This is important to ownership and access to capital.  Ultimately this type of business investment can serve as a stable foundation for future commercial success. 

    The interest savings on purchasing versus leasing commercial real estate is huge.  When carrying a mortgage on the property, a portion of each monthly payment goes to principal and a portion goes to interest.  A business owner can use the interest portion as a tax deduction.  So, a property valued at $500,000 with 20 percent down, a 20-year term and an interest rate of 4.5 percent has total payments of $607,000 over the course of 20 years, of which $207,000 goes directly to interest.  Thus, a third of the total payments can be deducted over the term, a major tax bonus.

    Property tax write-offs are another advantage to owning commercial real estate.  When you own property, you are responsible for village, county and school taxes which are deductible expenses that can offset business income and business tax liability.  

    Additionally, depreciation on commercial real estate is a benefit come tax time.  All assets but the land will depreciate in value as soon as they are purchased, including the roof, siding, furnace, sinks, toilets, decking etc.  The IRS allows the depreciation of a residential rental unit over 27.5 years and a commercial building over 39 years.  For example, if you purchase a residential rental for $1 million, the annual depreciation that can be written off is about $36,000. 

    Many other tax deductions are available when owning a business.  Any maintenance or renovations done to the property are deductible, as well as purchases of equipment, furniture, fixtures, and inventory and working capital for common area maintenance charges, insurance, phone, electric, internet, office and supply expenses.

    Some investors purchase commercial real estate as a long term retirement investment to generate a valued asset, knowing that the capital gains tax rate on the sale of a building will generally be lower than the personal tax deduction associated with a traditional IRA.  This is another reason that owning commercial real estate can be favorable.

    Looking way ahead, if you plan to leave the property to a beneficiary such as a spouse, family member, partner etc. and they decide to sell the property, they will only pay taxes on the increased value from the time of the owner’s passing.  This is referred to as a post-sales tax savings and is another benefit to ownership. For example, a business owner purchases a commercial property for $1 million and it appreciates to $4 million over time.  Then the owner passes, the property goes to the beneficiary and the beneficiary sells the property for $5 million; the beneficiary only owes taxes on $1 million. What a tax savings!

    The benefits to owning your commercial property may outweigh leasing or renting a space.  If you have a business that is in a solid financial position, consult with your team of experts such as your business advisor, attorney, accountant and banker to see what your next move should be. 

                The New York State Small Business Development Center at JCC offers free, individual, confidential counseling to new or existing business owners in Jefferson and Lewis counties.  They also offer an entrepreneurial training course with presentations by area professionals in law, marketing, accounting, etc.  For more information, contact 315-782-9262, sbdc@sunyjefferson.edu. St. Lawrence County residents can contact their SBDC at SUNY Canton, 315-386-7312, sbdc@canton.edu. 

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Turnovers Are For Breakfast, Not the Workplace

KRISTEN AUCTER

One of the biggest issues facing employers is the rate of turnover. Employers are coming to realize that more often than not a quality work environment is high on the list of priorities to the average employee. Turnover is fairly common for all businesses but can have a massive impact on an organization. Turnover is disruptive, costs money, and impacts employee morale. While the financial cost is difficult to measure, effects can include things like increased workloads, overtime expenses, and reduced productivity that is often found with low employee morale. That isn’t even including things like recruitment costs or the time and money that are put into training the new people. Turnover will never be 100 percent preventable but we can at least try to manage it better.

    Every business should attempt to have some sort of strategy in place to keep employees. The following are a few ideas to start that strategy:

Saving Money

  • Do you have businesses in your neighborhood that are willing to trade with you? Is there a restaurant that would agree to employee discounts for your employees that frequent there? Network and make connections that could benefit your employees or employees on both sides.
  • Celebrate employee’s work anniversary with a check or savings bond.
  • Add pet illnesses to the list of approved uses of sick time.
  • Buy movie tickets in bulk and make them available at a discount to employees.

Valuable Time

    If there’s one thing organizations can often offer with the most gain with the least pain, it’s time off and flexible work schedules.

  • Give employees the option of working an adjusted schedule that helps them with family, school, or personal preferences.
  • Provide a once-a-month pass for a longer lunch hour with the understanding that the time doesn’t have to be made up later.
  • Give employees a free floating vacation day on their birthday.
  • Depending on seasonal workloads, add seasonal hours to your official benefits.
  • Open the office late or leave the office early on special days that show employees you care about their dedication to their families and personal lives too (First or last day of school, Halloween, Christmas Eve etc.)
  • If no face-to-face meetings are necessary and work can be done via laptop, establish a work-from-home policy one day a month.

Time off and having a say in determining their own work schedule can be a huge benefit for staff morale and employee retention.

Recognition

    Employees who are recognized for their contributions to the cause generally have higher levels of job satisfaction, are more likely to be motivated and exhibit better retention rates.

  • Just saying the words “thank you” goes a long way. Not a verbal appreciation type of person? Send an email. Copy the manager or supervisor to celebrate achievements up the chain of command.
  • Send monthly “Kudos Kards” to your team or department pointing out successes in the department.

Let your employees feel appreciated. The loyalty earned will take your business far beyond your wildest expectations.

Drive

    Studies show there is a huge connection between staff morale and retention.

  • Free coffee is pretty regular but how about adding water or tea in the mix? Offer healthy snacks in the break room.
  • A local chiropractor or masseuse might be willing to come in and do 10-minute chair massages for free in order to advertise their business.
  • A Free-the-Feet Friday can make employees feel right at home if work conditions allow for slippers or sandals; add a dollar amount that gets dedicated to a local non-profit.
  • Create a canine-friendly workplace – More and more companies are allowing dogs in the workplace. Companies that allow pets have reported a lower rate of absenteeism and a more productive environment.
  • Put your employee’s time first. Are there regularly scheduled meetings that confuse attendees and take up valuable time that could be used more efficiently elsewhere? Are you micro-managing when an employee has proven time and time again they are up to the task? It’s time to stop and consider that this might be sending a message to your staff that you don’t trust their skills and that their time doesn’t really matter.
  • Encourage employees to walk away from technology. Schedule a few 20-minute breaks a week to just spend time together and catch up. Form a group that would like to do a daily afternoon walk to get air and exercise.
  • Keep them happy with little things:
  • A note on their desk in the morning when they come in acknowledging a small scale success.
  • An incentive program that allows them to save up for time off or bonus pay.
  • Got Snow? Create a phone tree among your departments and allow for surprise no-snow snow days when the winter days really start to get everyone down.

Employees that feel appreciated and valued are less likely to leave their jobs.

Communication

    People like to know what is going on. Keeping employees involved and “in the loop” can help keep them satisfied. Organizations and business with open communication tend to have more loyal employees. When employee viewpoints are taken into consideration while making changes and adjustments they will continue to pay more attention to productivity and efficiency. A statement heard more often than not is … “I loved my job… just not my manager.”

  • When adding tasks to an employee’s workload be sure to ask them what is already on their plate and assist them on prioritizing what is there. Don’t expect them to read your mind.
  • How effective are your evaluation process? Most employees desire feedback on jobs done and again, including them in conversations when setting future goals will create ownership of those goals.
  • Try to keep employees informed of decisions early and explain your thought process so they understand where you’re coming from. While they might not necessarily agree with decisions made they will know that you put ample time into coming to the decision.

Highly effective organizations rely heavily on communication to meet deadlines, produce products and encourage customers and clients to return.

    Create an environment where your employees feel valued and like they are a part of the success of the business. Allow them to take on new roles and responsibilities and grow their skill set to understand the business from a more holistic point of view. Obviously, not all of these ideas fit every work environment. There are deadlines and quotas to meet and customers to keep happy. But if you can find a few that might fit with what you have going on the results will more than likely surprise you.