For many farm families, growing crops or raising livestock is the easy part of the job — what’s hard is handling the business affairs associated with farming.

Beginning in January, the Florida Cooperative Extension Service will offer a course on the basics of farm finances and risk management. Called “Annie’s Project,” it will be available in Hernando, Marion, Sarasota, Sumter and Suwannee counties.

“If someone is thinking about starting a farm, or has an established farm, it’s good to think about their farm as a business, think like an entrepreneur,” said Nola Wilson, a Marion County Extension agent and state coordinator for the program. “I like to call it ‘agripreneurship,’ that’s the mindset you need.”

Annie’s Project is a nationwide program, found in about 25 states, Currently, Mississippi and Florida are the only Southeastern states where it’s available.

“We really do anticipate some success with this,” Wilson said. “We’ve taken banners advertising the program to conferences, and a lot of the women have been interested.”

Annie’s Project could be equally useful to men and women, Wilson said, but it was developed as a way to help women become better acquainted with farm business practices.

The program is named after Annie Fleck, 1922-1997, an Illinois farmer’s wife who taught herself business management and became wealthy as a result. Her daughter, Ruth, founded Annie’s Project to educate and empower other women.

Topics covered in the course include: human resources, women and money, business plans, alternative enterprises, interpersonal skills, farm succession, retirement and estate planning, using spreadsheets, marketing strategies, insurance, accounting, and financial records.

Each course runs six weeks, held one day per week for a three-hour session. Early registration is $25 and courses are limited to 25 participants, so early registration is recommended. To register, contact the Extension office in a participating county. To find extension offices, visit http://www.solutionsforyourlife.com/map/. For more information, call Nola Wilson at 352-671-8400.

The program will be expanded to include more counties in the future, Wilson said.

To learn about direct sales, marketing, Florida rules and regulations and more, visit the Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Web site, http://smallfarms.ifas.ufl.edu/.

On July 31-Aug. 1, 2010, the second Florida Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Conference will be held at Osceola Heritage Park in Kissimmee. It will feature exhibitors, educational sessions and more. All Florida farmers are invited to attend.

For information on conference sponsorship or being an exhibitor, contact Bob Hochmuth, 386-362-1725 or bobhoch@ufl.edu.