North Carolina producer Johnny Barnes wishes he would have pulled the trigger sooner. In July 2013, the president of Spring Hope, N.C.-based Barnes Farming Corporation and sister company Farm Pak Products hired a full-time chief financial officer (CFO). It wasn’t a quick or low-cost investment, but it is paying dividends.
“We are poised for growth,” says Barnes of his 14,000-acre operation that produces sweet potatoes, tobacco, peanuts, watermelons, wheat, soybeans and persimmons. “One of the first things we needed to do to be poised for growth was hire a CFO. We didn’t want someone who just counts numbers.”
After months of advertising the job, working with a consultant and reviewing resumes, Barnes was down to three finalists. “They were all really good guys,” he says. “One was an operations guy, one was a finance guy and Drew [Paterson] was both. So, we got two for the price of one.”
Beyond Accountant. With his knowledge of business and finance, Paterson focuses on the operation’s profitability. He previously held roles as a controller, director of finance and financial resource director.
“You need to understand what the numbers mean; you can’t just add them up,” he says. “We get outside people to do taxes. My vision is the financial numbers should help the operational people be more profitable and add another level of sophistication to decisions.”
Barnes and Paterson meet every Friday to discuss immediate issues and long-term strategies. Paterson generates a weekly report for Barnes that details the previous week’s financial activity, along with comparisons to the previous year and the past 90 days. Barnes says the amount of forecasting the farm does now is vital to its strategic goals.
The operation has expanded its lending relationships to include four banks, two ag-focused and two commercial. Banker relations have transferred to Paterson. “A CFO has to understand the business and be able to tell the bank about the business—and be believed,” he says.
With 700 people on the payroll, formalizing finances has caused some growing pains. But the farm’s leaders know it’s the path for success. “A partnership between finance and operations is vital to the long-term success and growth of our business,” Paterson says.