Joe Outlaw paused in his farm bill presentation at the Red River Crops Conference Tuesday, looked over at me and said:
“Ron, instead of quoting all the stupid things I say, publish this. Farmers can’t go to the coffee shop, talk with their neighbors and decide which farm program (ARC or PLC) to sign up for. This is not a coffee shop farm bill! The best decision for one farm may not be the best decision for another farm in the same county, even if it’s similar. Yield history and other factors will be different.”
Outlaw, professor and Texas AgriLife Extension economist, also said farmers should not just go into the local FSA office and sign up without evaluating the options. The decision is too important.
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“You have very little time left to get this done,” Outlaw added. “I have a problem. Too many farmers seem to think they can wait until the last minute. My problem is that either I have not been getting this message across or farmers are being lazy.”
Deadlines are close. Producers have until Feb. 27 to make decisions on base acreage reallocation or to update yield histories. They have until March 31 to sign up for either ARC or PLC. “I understand that extensions will not be granted,” he said.
Evaluation, he said, is critical. ARC (Agricultural Risk Coverage) and PLC (Price Loss Coverage) are different animals and offer significantly different protection.
“I don’t care which program farmers choose,” Outlaw said. “I just wanted farmers to have a choice. To make the best decisions, they have to evaluate the programs against individual farm records.”
He recommended farmers gather information and use one of several decision aid tools to help determine the best fit for an individual farm. He also emphasized that the decision can’t be reversed. The choice lasts for the duration of the Agriculture Act of 2014.
“Make an educated choice on what’s best for a farm.”
Cotton farmers have another consideration, the STAX program, which replaces the cotton program in previous farm bills. Cotton is no longer a covered commodity and will switch to an insurance-based program. Producers must take that into consideration as they determine which other programs work best with cotton and the “generic” acres that replace their old cotton base.
“Cotton farmers should be gathering information and entering data into a decision aid tool.”
Outlaw went further in his admonishment to get this done quickly and said if producers believe the program is too difficult or if they are not particularly computer savvy, Texas AgriLife Extension has a Help Desk available form 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Central Daylight Time, seven days a week, to help farmers get the paperwork completed. The Help Desk number is: (844)229-7373. That number will offer help only with the decision aid.
Another number, (888)890-5663, offers more detailed help. He said the first number, by contract, is only available for decision aid help. With either number, a caller is asked to leave a number and wait for a call back, which typically occurs within minutes.
“We have people available to help,” he said. Producers unfamiliar with electronic filings can call the second number and have someone provide in-depth assistance.
Outlaw expressed some frustration that more producers have not signed up for these programs. He admits that the Farm Service Agency, which has been slammed with the burden of getting folks signed up, may not have all the data needed yet. But he insists that farmers should gather their production records, check with insurance representatives for yield histories and make appointments to sign up for these programs.
“There is no excuse,” he said.
On a personal note: I have never heard Joe Outlaw say anything stupid.