The farm bill remains one of the major headlines for farmers this year, especially until all the rules are written and sign-ups get underway.
Brad Lubben, policy specialist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, says the Farm Service Agency has been making “tremendous strides in terms of rolling out disaster assistance programs very quickly.”
By the end of the summer, it’s likely agriculture will be heavy into the education process and potential sign-ups.
USDA has allocated $6 million to that education process. 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.
Pat Westhoff, director of FAPRI, says the groups are meeting with USDA on expectations for the tools, but many details remain under wraps.
AFPC has launched a Crop Decisions Aids Data Collection Form and Instructions to help farmers start the process of collecting data that will need to be entered into the various crop decision tools once they’re available.
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. The University of Illinois has also launched a Farm Bill Toolbox as a one-stop resource for farm program decisions, information and analysis. 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, USDA reports.
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.
On Monday June 30, the Risk Management Agency (RMA) released an interim rule outlining seven actions it is taking to modify crop insurance in line with the requirements of the 2014 Farm Bill.
The provisions provide better options for beginning farmers, allow producers to have enterprise units for irrigated and non-irrigated crops, give farmers and ranchers the ability to purchase different levels of coverage for a variety of irrigation practices, provide guidance on conservation compliance, implement protections for native sod and provide adjustments to historical yields following significant disasters.