"You certainly hear the stories about the older generation that never really wants to let go of the reins," Nordquist said. "Even though they might be going through the motions of letting go of the kids, they never release (control) of management. So they keep on doing the same thing ... Maybe they don't ever step back."

Garrett Riekhof, a Higginsville farmer and 2003 Missouri graduate who took the class a decade ago, said the course marked the first time he took a hard look at the business side of his family's operation.

"A farm is more than how many dollars of seed you have in the ground each year," he said. "These are business practices that any small business needs to go through to assess their health. I like to run my farm just like any small business would."

For some, the statistical approach could lead to a disheartening conclusion: The family farm may not survive another generation. And other students' parents remain resistant to opening the family's books â¿¿ even to their own progeny. In those cases, Moore encourages his students to "use me as a scapegoat."

Anderson's parents, though, were more than happy to hand over the books, and now their son shares his newfound insights into estate planning, asset transfer and other financial management details.

"I'm very proud he wants to come back, but I wanted it to be his decision," said his father, John Anderson, 53, whose three daughters also attended Missouri but pursued other professions.

"Technology is taking over agriculture just like it's taking over the world," John Anderson said. "And he's getting it firsthand."

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Alan Scher Zagier can be reached at http://twitter.com/azagier .

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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