Farm bill decision aid goes live as USDA announces farm bill rules

James Richardson says he and other Texas A&M University analysts realized early on that what became the Agricultural Act of 2014 wasn’t going to be business as usual for the nation’s farmers.

Dr. Richardson, co-director of the Agricultural & Food Policy Center at Texas A&M, helped develop the Farm Bill Decision Aid that was announced Thursday (Sept. 25) by USDA and the Farm Service Agency as part of the final rules for the new farm law.

“We work with House and Senate Ag Committee economists on analyzing alternative options for the 2014 farm bill. So we knew there would be a lot of options farmers would face,” he said. “We didn’t know exactly what it was because PLC changed, ARC changed and SCO changed several times during that two year process.

“So we started building the decision aid at that time. Henry Bryant is a professor in our Ag Policy Center. He started programming it, and it just got more complex as we went along. The farm bill was finished in February. We narrowed down on the options we were analyzing, and we started focusing on just what was in the farm bill at that time.”

On the day USDA announced the final rules for the 2014 farm bill and a new tool to help farmers make sense of it, Richardson and Dr. Joe Outlaw, also co-director of the Agricultural & Food Policy Center, and Dr. Pat Westhoff, director of the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri, were in Memphis training farm bill specialists on using the decision aid.

Texas A&M’s Agricultural & Food Policy Center and FAPRI received a contract from USDA to develop a decision aid tool for the new farm bill’s options. A similar contract was awarded to the University of Illinois.

During the training session, which was sponsored by the University of Arkansas’s Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness, Richardson and Outlaw stressed the provisions may impact each farm differently.

“The farm bill is written so the farmer can customize which options they go into by crop, by farm,” Richardson noted. “So they may find, based on the historical plantings of their crops on farm one that they can update their yields and reallocate their bases. On another farm where they have a different planting pattern, they can’t rallocate their base because it would be the same as what they’ve currently got.”

In the case of yields, farmers may or may not want to update them depending on their planting history and the weather patterns between 2008 and 2013. “That decision will vary from farm to farm depending on whether you had a drought or had a hailstorm,” says Richardson. “The 2012 drought in Iowa really messed up those folks from being able to update their yields.”

The new decision aid from Texas A&M and FAPRI was live on the USDA website on Thursday, the day Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the final rules for the farm bill. Richardson and Outlaw said more information will become available in the decision aid within the next two or three weeks as the Farm Service Agency and the Risk Management Agency provide more details on the new insurance programs. For more information and to see the new decision aid, visit

TAGS: Management
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