MSU Billings professor a pioneer in ag accounting by authoring new textbook
May 20, 2008
Barbara Wheeling, College of Business, 657-1756
Dan Carter, University Relations, 657-2269
By Dan Carter
MSU Billings News Services
Barbara Wheeling has a mixture of prairie farmland and a passion for numbers running through her veins. Horses dash through mountain meadows and stand in snow in photos that surround her desk. Nearby are outlines for business majors pursing accounting degrees and plans for impending college accreditation visits.
So it’s easy to see why authoring an agriculture accounting textbook made such good sense.
“I was teaching some agriculture business majors and when I reviewed the text, I found that some of this stuff doesn’t work for them,” said Wheeling, an assistant professor of accounting at Montana State University Billings.
With the sense of a clear need in one hand and a vision in the other, Wheeling decided some writing needed to be done. But instead of trying to modify current lesson plans from existing textbooks, she determined it was time for her and other college accounting professors to have a unique textbook that deals with accounting methods that are specific to agriculture. She used her distinctive farm and accounting backgrounds and penned what is now the only comprehensive ag accounting textbook in the United States.
“Introduction to Agricultural Accounting,” published by Delmar Publishers last fall, is a 336-page textbook that offers an approach for compiling and analyzing accounting information specific to agricultural operations. It is being sold nationally and internationally.
Wheeling said that unlike typical accounting books, her textbook addresses the issues and situations unique to the agricultural industry, which makes sense for students who are preparing for futures in the agriculture industry, one of the biggest economic drivers on the northern plains.
Agriculture brings in $2 billion annually for Montana’s economy. It’s said that while one in five Montanans work in agriculture or a related field, five in five Montanans consume agricultural products.
“I have a unique background,” said Wheeling during a recent interview. “Growing up on a farm and being an accountant, I have both the ag and accounting background with an ability to teach.”
A professor at MSU Billings for only four years, her teaching and scholarship also have been noticed by her colleagues. Wheeling this year was recognized by MSU Billings with a Faculty Excellence Achievement Award.
A native of North Dakota, Wheeling is a Certified Public Accountant and a member of Pacific Northwest Farm Business Management Instructors. She has been widely published, including the articles “Alternatives to GAAP for the Agricultural Industry” in Today's CPA and “Accounting for Agricultural Producers,” a monograph for Bureau of National Affairs in Washington, DC.
She said because agriculture is a unique industry —farmers are raising their own assets, for example — students who will be working in agriculture or related fields need to be knowledgeable in the accrual system of accounting that better reflects the dynamics of commodities markets.
For example, some farmers work on cash basis accounting because that is what they know. That means that the revenues are recognized in the period in which they are receive and the expenses are recognized in the period in which they are paid. That would be fine if all your grain were planted, harvested, stored and sold on the market in the same year. But what about the grain that is sold after the first of the year? Or what about purchasing a new harvester in the fall to use the following season?
All of those scenarios can be better reflected in an accrual-adjusted system in Wheeling’s book, which provides more accurate information for the measurement of profitability of the farm operation. Figures and tables are presented throughout for easy reference and to simplify accounting practices. The easy-to-understand approach is appropriate for learners without any accounting background and offers relevant examples of accounting applied to agricultural operations in today’s world.
Wheeling said she hopes the textbook gets picked up by the more than 130 American community colleges in the United States that have ag accounting courses.
“Word is getting out among my colleagues in the Pacific northwest and in other states,” she said, smiling.
But she noted that her work was not a money-making venture, but a step toward contribution for students. She recounted the hours spent organizing 300 PowerPoint slides that accompany the text and the 700 test questions she wrote over Christmas break 2006-07.
“The best part is the feeling of accomplishment in getting it done… that I could contribute something important,” she said.
More information on the various programs at the MSU Billings College of Business can be found online at www.msubillings.edu/cob.