Donley and Carol Duerksen, Hillsboro, KS, know exactly how much money they're making on the trucks they use in their custom chopping business.

They're enrolled in the Custom Harvesters Analysis and Management Program (CHAMP), which gives them detailed cost-and-return information for their business.

“We learned that it's better for us to own our own trucks vs. leasing,” says Carol Duerksen. “CHAMP also helped us analyze and manage our debt load.”

CHAMP was founded in 1997 by U.S. Custom Harvesters, Inc. (USCHI) and Kansas State University ag economists Terry Kastens and Kevin Dhuyvetter.

“It's a financial analysis program — not a software program — that serves a dual purpose,” says Dhuyvetter. “It helps harvesters compare their income and expenses on an individual basis, plus it lets them see how they compare to other harvesters.”

Participating harvesters supply data on expenses, revenue, employees, etc. After completing an analysis, Kastens and Dhuyvetter send each harvester a detailed report. Harvesters then meet individually with the economists at the USCHI annual meeting.

“The business analysis in the CHAMP program is based on economic profits, as opposed to tax-return profits,” says Dhuyvetter. “The analysis accounts for things such as market depreciation on equipment and the cost of using your equity in the business.

“We rely on some of the same information that is reported in a harvester's tax return and then we supplement that with additional information to get at economic profits. While tax-return data can be a reasonable estimate of your true economic profits in some cases, it can also be misleading. So it's important to consider economic returns when evaluating your business.”

Participants use the information in a number of ways, Dhuyvetter adds. When the price of fuel went way up a few years ago, some harvesters showed the data to clients to help explain raised rates. Others have shown it to lenders or used it to back up insurance claims.

Developed for custom grain harvesters, the program can, with minor modifications, be used to analyze forage-harvesting operations. Because the Duerksens are the first custom forage harvesters to participate, their report doesn't include comparisons with other harvesters. Roughly 20-30 grain harvesters participate annually.

“If we get a minimum of five to 10 forage harvesters to participate, we believe we would have a pretty reasonable benchmark to compare against,” says Dhuyvetter.

Gathering information for the program was relatively easy for Carol Duerksen, who taught high-school accounting for 31 years.

“The program gave me the motivation to keep better records in 2003, so it was easier to fill out the forms this year,” she says.

Program cost is $150 for USCHI members and $225 for non-members. John Deere also makes an annual financial contribution to the program.

For more information, visit www.aganalysisplus.com and click on the CHAMP link.