COLUMBUS, NE (AP)--It would be a mistake to assume that time alone can teach a farmer everything there is to know about agriculture.

Farming--more and more a big business--requires bookkeeping skills that many family farmers simply don't have.

Central Community College-Platte Campus has recognized that and has offered a free course title "Beginning Farm Accounting: Making Sense of Farm Records," which teaches basic expense management.

When continued for more than one year, the course can help farmers compete with bigger operations, but farmers of any scale can benefit, instructor Verne Buhl said. Farmers are advised to stay in the program for at least three years. They are then awarded a certificate.

Buhl said 40 to 50 farm families take the class each year. It has run through Platte Campus in various forms for 23 years and is paid for through a $25,000 grant from the Central Community College Board of Governors and two anonymous grants of $10,000.

The main textbook for the course is a 125-page ring-bound workbook for figuring expenses. A computer also can be used for this phase of the course. Regardless of how the figures are collected, they are tabulated in a computer program that can organize the data any way the farmer wants.

Since many farmers participate in similar programs in Nebraska, data from several farms can be averaged to show a producer where he or she stacks up, Buhl said.

"It's not like we're telling them what to do," he said. "We're trying to show them their strengths and weaknesses.

"Management should be the first thing to deal with but often it's the last," Buhl said.

Life-long farmer Jim Vodehnal and wife, Sandie, took the course over five weeks from January to March.

The Vodehnal's operation just south of Ord focuses on hogs and cattle, with most of the crops grown on the about 1,300-acre farm marketed through their animals as feed.

"It's a small farm by today's standards," he said.

Considering how commodity markets can fluctuate, the college's program, Sandie Vodehnal said, "is a very, very good thing to help you get a handle on your expenses."

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