By ALAN SCHER ZAGIER
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) â¿¿ Jake Anderson didn't have to delve too deep into the University of Missouri's agricultural economics program before realizing he was destined to return to the 1,500-acre family farm. After all, that's been the Anderson family trade since 1891, when his great-great grandfather came to Callaway County from Sweden.
What the self-described "farm kid" was less certain of was how to manage a volatile business where market price fluctuations are common, the weather is unpredictable and long-term planning â¿¿ at least for his parents and their parents â¿¿ often meant scratching out financial estimates on a yellow legal pad or the back of an envelope. So, each Wednesday in the just-concluded spring semester, Anderson and a dozen other Missouri students crunched numbers in a campus computer lab, the male students' agrarian roots betrayed only by baseball caps sporting farm equipment logos.
The focus on data is intentional: While other classes teach ag students how to repair combines or learn the proper chemical mixes of common fertilizers, students in agricultural economist Kevin Moore's "Returning to the Farm" class create business plans using financial information from their own family farms. It's an approach more commonly found at the county agricultural extension office or in community college classrooms rather than flagship public research universities.Moore says the skills are essential for the next generation of farmers for whom technology is second nature, but bringing their elders on board remains a challenge. "For a lot of the students, the first time they actually get exposed to the real financial numbers on the farm may be through this class," Moore said. "Generally, Mom and Dad try to make everything rosy for the kids. ... For many, it's really their first honest exposure to the complete financial side of things."