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USDA Funds Farm Bill Education

Thursday the USDA announced which universities will lead the effort to explain complicated new farm programs to producers, and offered a glimpse of the timetable for making key decisions.

As authorized by the Agricultural Act of 2014, USDA is making $6 million available for educational outreach that farmers can use late this summer. Half of that goes to a group of land grant universities, led by the University of Illinois, the University of Missouri's Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute, and the Agricultural and Food Policy Center at Texas A&M. The universities will produce online tools to help producers decide which program is best for their farm.

The other half, or $3 million, goes to state extension services which will begin holding educational meetings late this summer.

For most Corn Belt farmers, this will be the start of deciding whether to sign up for the Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) program, which is based on either county-level or farm-level revenue, or Price Loss Coverage (PLC), with payments tied to fixed "reference prices." The University of Illinois is also developing online tools that dairy farmers can use to evaluate the new Margin Protection Program (MPP).

"Helping farmers and ranchers understand new Farm Bill programs and what the programs mean for their families is one of USDA's top priorities," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. "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."

Even before the education campaign begins, Farm Service Agency offices will send letters to producers in mid-summer to notify them of their current base acres and yields and their 2009 to 2012 planting history. That information can be used to reallocate base acres and update yields.

Late this year--the USDA timeline says winter of 2014--farmers will have a chance to make a one-time selection of either the ARC or PLC program for all five years of the farm bill, 2014 through 2018. If you enter ARC at the farm level, all eligible program crops have to be in ARC. If entered at the county level, some crops in your base could be in ARC and others in PLC.

Early next year, farmers will have a chance to sign up for 2014 and 2015 ARC and PLC, depending on which programs they selected at the end of this year.

That might sound like an unnecessary step after choosing which programs you want for the next five years. But each year you have to sign up for the program in order to receive payments, Kevin McClure, a program specialist at the Iowa Farm Service Agency office told

"You still have the option every year to go in or be out," McClure said. Those who don't sign up aren't eligible for payments for that year.

Although tools that allow producers to make educated guesses about potential payments won't be out until late summer, the FSA website does have projections of payment rates of the PLC program posted for the 2014 crop. Payments will be determined from national average prices for the 2014 marketing year, which doesn't start until September. So the estimate is based on the latest USDA price projections, from May 9.

If those price projections turn out to be accurate, most program crops would not trigger PLC payments. The reference price for corn, for example, is $3.70 a bushel and the projected price of $4.20 is well above that. Only barley, peanuts, canola and safflower currently are projected to trigger payments. The projected payment rate for peanuts, 6.75 cents per pound, comes closest to hitting the maximum payment rate (9 cents per pound).

The FSA website also shows current ARC price benchmarks, which along with county yields, determine revenue. 

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