USDA has allocated $6 million in grant funding for three universities and cooperative extension services to begin work on web-based tools that will help farmers understand the options available to them in the 2014 Farm Bill, the agency said Thursday.
The University of Illinois and the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri, along with the Agricultural and Food Policy Center at Texas A&M, will develop the tools. Several other universities from across the U.S. are listed as collaborators.
The new programs will include online decision tools and other materials that will help train experts to educate producers about several key farm bill programs.
"Helping farmers and ranchers understand new farm bill programs and what the programs mean for their families is one of USDA's top priorities," USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.
"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 announcement was also supported by American Soybean Association President Ray Gaesser, who said the funding helps farmers establish which of the new options will work best for their operations.
Gaesser applauded the regional diversity of the universities tasked with developing the tools, which will encompass recommendations from experts familiar with all crops and growing practices specific to certain areas.
"These programs will be in effect through the life of this farm bill—at least through 2018—so it is imperative that farmers have all the information available to make informed decisions," he said.
Sorting out ARC, PLC
The new resources will help farmers and ranchers make an educated choice between the new Agriculture Risk Coverage program and the Price Loss Coverage 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.
Resources for dairy producers, too
New tools will be provided for other programs as well. Sign-up for the newly established Margin Protection Program for Dairy begins late this summer and enrollment for "buy-up" provisions under the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program 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.
Additional funding to Extension
USDA will also award $3 million to state cooperative extension services for outreach and education on the new farm bill programs, USDA said.
Funds will be used to conduct public education outreach meetings where producers can speak with local extension agents and Farm Service Agency staff. Outreach meetings will begin late this summer to help farmers and ranchers understand the new programs and their options.
In the meantime, producers have access to the FSA website, which gives them a chance to begin familiarizing themselves with the new programs. At this site, farmers and ranchers can view ARC and PLC projected payments, ARC guarantees, and PLC payment rate projections.
A full update on the implementation of the 2014 Farm Bill is available on the USDA website.