a national information resource for value-added agriculture
Agricultural Marketing Resource Center

Dividing Business Income

Don Hofstrand
Co-Director - Ag Marketing Resource Center
Iowa State University
Written, April 2006

Many business ventures involve two or more individuals working together.  These ventures may focus on marketing products to local consumers, the processing of farm products or other type of venture.  Although these are often not complex arrangements, creating a method of equitably dividing income among the parties is important.

Below are methods to help you divide business income between the parties in an equitable manner.  The two most common income sharing models are:

  • Contributions model – Income is divided in the same proportion as the relative value of each party's contribution of resources to the business venture.
  • 50/50 model – A return is paid to each party for his/her contribution of resources to the venture.  Any remaining profit or loss is shared equally among the parties.

We will discuss these models as if only two parties are involved.  However, they can be used with three or more parties.

A sharing arrangement should be reviewed periodically. If the ownership pattern or the labor and management contributions change, the arrangement should be updated to reflect these changes. A common mistake and source of conflict in these arrangements is the failure to keep them current and accurate.  These approaches may be interpreted from a legal perspective as a partnership because there is a sharing of profits and losses.

Contributions Model

The first step in developing the contributions model is to calculate the annual value or cost of each party's contribution of resources to the venture.  These resources can be divided into five types: 

  • real estate (land and buildings)
  • personal property (machinery, equipment, livestock, etc)
  • working capital
  • labor
  • management

One way of thinking about the annual value or cost of a resource is the income given up or foregone by using the resource in the business venture rather than in an alternative use.  For example, the annual value of ten acres of farmland that will be used by the business venture is the amount of rent that could have been received if rented to a neighbor.  If the current rental rate is $135 per acre, then the value of the contribution is $1,350.  This is the annual cost of contributing the land to the business venture.  The value computed with this method is commonly referred to as opportunity cost.  The same method can be used for determining an annual value or cost of buildings and facilities, although rental rates are less well established.

The annual value (cost) of machinery and equipment can be estimated by using a rental rate or by calculating the cost of ownership.  The cost of ownership includes repairs, taxes, insurance, depreciation and a return on the money invested in the assets.

Working capital contributed by the parties to cover the cash flow needs of the business can be valued by using the rate of return that would have been received from an alternative investment.  For example, the annual value (cost) of the contribution of $20,000 used as working capital versus using it in an alternative investment with a rate of return of 6 percent is $1,200.  Direct expenses such as fuel, utilities, supplies, advertising and hired labor can be paid from a business account containing the working capital.

Labor can be valued by using a typical wage rate for performing comparable work.  A reasonable estimate for management is more difficult to estimate, but a rule of thumb frequently used is to take ten percent of all other costs.

Net income (net of direct expenses) is then shared in the same proportion as each party's respective contribution of resources.

In the example below, the annual value (cost) of the first party's contribution is $69,000, or 60 percent of the total. The second party contributes $46,000, or 40 percent of the total.

Annual Value of Contributions      
  First Party Second Party Total
Real Estate $35,000 $15,000 $50,000
Equipment 16,000 7,000 23,000
Working Capital 1,000 1,000 2,000
Labor 12,000 18,000 30,000
Management 5,000 5,000 10,000
Total $69,000 $46,000 $115,000

First party's net income share            $69,000  =  60%

Second party's net income share        $46,000  =  40%

As shown below, the gross return from the year’s activities is $166,000 with $46,000 of direct expenses.  Of the $120,000 of net returns, the first party receives a net return of $72,000 and the second party receives $48,000.

Net Return      
  First Party Second Party Total
Gross income     $166,000
Direct expenses     -46,000
Total net return     $120,000
Percent Distribution 60% 40%  
Individual Net Return $72,000 $48,000 $120,000

50/50 Model

In the 50/50 model, the contributions of real estate, machinery and equipment, working capital, labor and management are paid a return similar to a rental payment or a wage. The amounts can be computed in the same way as they are with the Contributions Model.  The remaining return (profit) is shared equally among the parties.

In the following example, net business income of $120,000 is computed by subtracting the direct business expenses from the gross income. Next a return equal to a rental fee or cost of ownership is paid to each party for the use of land, machinery, labor and management. The remaining $5,000 of profit is divided equally between the two parties.

Income and Expenses Total
Gross income $166,000
Direct expenses -46,000
Net return $120,000
First party's real estate -35,000
Second party's real estate -15,000
First party's equipment -16,000
Second party's equipment -7,000
First party's working capital -1,000
Second party's working capital -1,000
First party's labor and management -17,000
Second party's labor and management -23,000
Profit $5,000

Each party's total return consists of the rental or wage return from his/her respective resources plus 50% of the profits. As shown below, the first party receives $71,500 and the second party $48,500.

Net Returns      
  First Party Second Party Total
Real Estate $35,000 $15,000 $50,000
Machinery & equipment 16,000 7,000 23,000
Working Capital 1,000 1,000 2,000
Labor & management 17,000 23,000 40,000
Profit 2,500 2,500 5,000
Net Return $71,500 $48,500 $120,000

USDA Rural DevelopmentPartially Funded by USDA Rural Development
...and justice for all.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, and marital or family status. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Many materials can be made available in alternative formats for ADA clients. To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Office of Civil Rights, Room 326-W, Whitten Building, 14th and Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call 202-720-5964.

Iowa State University

The names, words, symbols, and graphics representing Iowa State University are trademarks and copyrights of the university, protected by trademark and copyright laws of the U.S. and other countries.