Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced last week that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is awarding $6 million to universities and cooperative state extension services to develop online decision tools and other materials and train experts to educate producers about several key farm bill programs. The University of Illinois is among the universities awarded these funds.
Together with the U of I, 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.
"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 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."
These funds are important, as this farm bill promises to be the most complicated farm bill yet. Different from the last several years, there is no “default” program farmers can enroll in that will be the same as a previous year. The 2014 decision will be among completely new programs and will require conversations between land owners and tenants to determine which program is best for them.
The Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program and the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) program are the two that most concern corn farmers. With help from the University of Illinois, farmers will be able to input details of their specific farms along with crops, soils, and weather info to help determine the viability of each.
USDA will also award $3 million to state cooperative extension services 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.