The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced May 29 they will award the $6 million in funds provided in the farm bill to universities and cooperative state extension services to develop online decision tools as well as training tools for experts to educate producers about several provisions of the new farm bill.
The University of Illinois (lead for the National Coalition for Producer Education [NCPE]), along with the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) at the University of Missouri and the Agricultural and Food Policy Center (AFPC) at Texas A&M (co-leads for the National Association of Agricultural and Food Policy [NAAFP]), will receive a total of $3 million to develop the new online tools and train state-based extension agents who can in turn help educate farmers.
These web-based tools with help farmers make choices between Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) program. Using the new online tools, producers will be able to use data unique to their specific farming operations combined with factors like the geographical diversity of crops, soils, weather and climates across the country to test a variety of financial scenarios before officially signing up for the new program options later this year. Once a producer enrolls in the ARC or PLC program, he or she must remain in the program through the 2018 crop year.
New tools will be provided for other programs as well. Sign-up for the newly established Margin Protection Program for Dairy (MPP) begins late this summer and enrollment for "buy-up" provisions under the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) will begin early next year. An online MPP tool will be available when sign up begins and the NAP buy-up provision resource will become available to producers in the fall for the 2015 crop year.
"Helping farmers and ranchers understand new Farm Bill programs and what the programs mean for their families is one of USDA's top priorities," said ag secretary Tom Vilsack. "With the resources we're providing, university experts will help ensure farmers and ranchers are highly educated as they make critical decisions about new programs that impact their livelihoods. The new tools that will be developed will empower farmers and ranchers to select the plan that best fits their unique needs."
The American Soybean Assn. welcomed the announcement which will allow farmers to have all the information available to make informed decisions.
“It’s important that farmers in geographically-diverse parts of the country have analysis from experts in their region to help them decide on the appropriate program, and the diverse institutions represented by the two consortia that will receive the funding will accomplish just that. This approach will provide farmers with tools developed by economists familiar with their specific crops, practices and growing regions,” said ASA president Ray Gaesser. ASA supported this approach, and Gaesser said ASA was “heartened” to see that approach taken in the announcement.
The University of Illinois, as well as FAPRI and AFPC will develop ARC and PLC Web tools. The University of Illinois will also develop the online resources for the MPP and NAP programs.
USDA will also award $3 million to state cooperative extension services—a nationwide network of experts based at land-grant universities—for outreach and education on the new Farm Bill programs. Funds will be used to conduct public education outreach meetings where producers can speak with local extension agents and Farm Service Agency (FSA) staff. Outreach meetings will begin late this summer to help farmers and ranchers understand the new programs and their options.
While universities work to create new online tools, producers now have access to a preliminary website that gives them a chance to begin familiarizing themselves with the new programs and the type of information they will need to consider when deciding which program options work better for them. At this site, farmers and ranchers can view ARC and PLC projected payments, ARC guarantees, and PLC payment rate projections. These tables are available on the FSA website.