Texas A&M, Texas AgriLife Extension Service and other universities and Extension programs are being recruited by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to conduct public education outreach meetings and to provide online training and education of farmers and ranchers who must adapt and conform to new programs provided by the Agriculture Act of 2014.

"Helping farmers and ranchers understand new farm bill programs and what the programs mean for their families is one of USDA's top priorities," Vilsack said in a statement announcing $6 million in grants to support programs that will create new web tools and other materials designed to help the nation's agriculture producers understand the many new programs authorized by the 2014 farm bill.

Texas A&M's Agricultural and Food Policy Center (AFPC) will co-lead the program with the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) at the University of Missouri, and the University of Illinois. Vilsack says the three universities will receive $3 million to develop online tools and other materials that will train Extension specialists who will work directly with farmers to bring them up to speed on several new programs funded in the Farm Bill.

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"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," Vilsack added.

Secretary Vilsack said the programs will enable farmers to decide between options for the new Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program and the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) program authorized by the farm bill as part of a new farm safety net for producers.

USDA officials say the program will provide online tools that will offer producers the chance to enter specific data about their farm operations including types of crops they grow, soils, weather and climate specific to their geographic location, and other information to help them test a variety of financial scenarios before making a final decision about which program is best for their farms before a decision deadline expires later this year.

One-time choice

Under terms of the new farm bill, producers who enroll in the ARC or PLC must remain in the program through the 2018 crop year.

In addition to ARC and PLC, tools will be developed to help with other programs made available through the Agriculture Act of 2014. 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 part of the funding will help state Extension services 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 the options available to them.

While universities work to create new online tools, producers already 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. Farmers can view ARC and PLC projected payments, ARC guarantees, and PLC payment rate projections at the web site.

Universities scheduled to participate in developing web tools for the National Coalition for Producer Education include the University of Illinois, Michigan State University, Montana State University, Watts & Associates, Delaware State University, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, North Carolina A&T University, University of Wisconsin, Cornell University, Pennsylvania State University, Ohio State University, and University of Minnesota.

Universities working to develop other programs include Texas Tech University, University of Missouri, Iowa State University, University of Nebraska, Kansas State University, Mississippi State University, Oklahoma State University, Tennessee State University, University of Georgia, and Fresno State University.