Farm agencies drop popular software; farmers protest

Benjamin Sandell

Last winter the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Farm Service Agency announced that the Minnesota FSA offices would no longer use the popular computer program FinPack.
The government’s announcement has created statewide protests from farmers and lenders throughout Minnesota.
“I think it’s a bureaucratic decision at its worst,” said Mark S. Nowak, a farmer and senior vice president in charge of lending at the Americana Bank in Wells, Minn. “It would be a mistake to move FinPack from Minnesota.”
Developed at the University in 1977, FinPack is a planning and analysis system that helps farmers and lenders make financial decisions about the future of their farm. Approximately 15,000 Minnesota farmers, and 30,000 farmers nationwide, use the software.
The Minnesota FSA has decided to discontinue the use of the software because the program is not compatible with other programs used by the rest of the nation.
After the decision to eliminate the program from state FSA offices, Minnesota congressional members were inundated with hundreds of letters and phone calls protesting the move.
State congressmen David Minge and Gil Gutknecht, along with Sen. Rod Grams, have fought to maintain the software in Minnesota FSA offices. Their efforts have afforded the program a reprieve in the form of two measures.
First, the FSA and the University will work together in order to establish an interface system between the national software, Farm and Home Plan, and FinPack to create a “bridge system” that will help the two programs communicate with each other.
Second, if a congressional amendment introduced by Grams passes, the discontinuation of FinPack will be postponed for six months, allowing farmers and lenders to make a smooth transition from FinPack to Farm and Home Plan.
Despite the move to phase out FinPack, many professionals say that the program is superior to the Farm and Home Plan program.
“FinPack goes into a lot more depth. It really gives the farmer a better set of information to make decisions on,” said Robert Craven, director of the Center for Farm Financial Management at the University.
Craven said FinPack is not going away, noting the FSA makes up only a small percentage of the software’s users.
But, he added, by taking FinPack out of Minnesota FSA offices, the state will lose the uniformity it once had when all offices and individuals used the same program.
Dale Nordquist, associate director of CFFM said the FSA’s decision “is not much of a financial issue to us, but the concern we have is farmers get pretty tired of having to fill out different forms every time they go to different lenders.”
Tracy Beckman, state executive director of the FSA, said, “When I originally looked at FinPack I was excited about it. My first question was, how does it fit into the common computing environment, and the fact was that it wasn’t.”
Beckman added that he would have been “very happy” if FinPack had been the vehicle that was selected nationally.
But some farmers and lenders would be happy to just have the program available in Minnesota.
“Here we have established a very efficient, very effective and a very workable system to help the farm community,” Nowak said. “(FinPack) is working so well in Minnesota. Is the government so inflexible that they can’t make an exception?”