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Recently in the Farm Bill Category

09-2014-dairy.jpgUniversity of Minnesota Extension and the Farm Service Agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture begin a series of free dairy education seminars this month to help farmers make decisions brought about by the 2014 Farm Bill.

Dairy producers have until Nov. 28 to enroll in the Dairy Margin Protection Program. Newly created by the farm bill, the program aims to reduce producers' exposure to catastrophic losses through risk management. The program is voluntary and pays producers when the difference between the national price of milk and the average cost of feed falls below a level selected by the producers.

"The farm bill creates a new opportunity for dairy producers to manage risk. These training sessions will go through various scenarios to help dairy producers make the most appropriate decisions for their operations," said Kevin Klair, University of Minnesota Extension economist and program leader at the university's Center for Farm Financial Management. "This is a new program in which we think most dairy producers should at least enroll at the minimum level and then thoroughly analyze the program and higher coverage options for their operation."

The seminars are offered at 18 locations through early November and will be led by Extension educators and FSA staff; no registration is required. Details are available here (181 K PDF).

The farm bill designates the Extension arm of land-grant universities nationwide as the education provider for producers.

In July, farm landowners received a base acre and yield commodity crop history summary letter from their Farm Service Agency (FSA) office. The summary letter lists the landowner's FSA farm planted acres for 2008 through 2012. Landowners have 60 days from the time they received the summary letter to contact the FSA office if there are any discrepancies in the data listed. This information is essential to being able to sign up for the new 2014 Farm Bill programs.

There have been instances in which the summary lists no data or the data is incorrect. If the data is missing or the data listed in the summary letter is incorrect, the landowner should contact the FSA office in the county where the land is located. If the landowner rents the land to a tenant, the tenant can contact the FSA office on the landowner's behalf. Once contacted, the FSA office staff can research and correct the base acre information for the specific FSA farm.

The 60-day deadline is required only if there are errors in the base acres listed in the summary letter. If the data listed is correct, the landowner does not have to do anything. The deadline has nothing to do with the Farm Bill provision for reallocation of base acres and updating FSA yields. Those decision deadlines have not yet been announced.

"Producers and landowners will need to make a series of decisions related to Farm Bill enrollment over the next few months. This is a first step," said Gary Hachfeld, regional Extension educator.

If landowners have questions about the base acre summary letter they received, they should contact the FSA office in the county where land is located. Staff will answer questions and assist with correcting any discrepancies that may exist in the base acre data. For additional information on the 2014 Farm Bill go to www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/business/farm-bill/.

The "Agricultural Act of 2014," commonly called the farm bill, changes many programs and rules for farmers. Farmers need to make a crucial one-time, irrevocable election under the crop commodity programs. Farmers also have an opportunity to update their base acres and their base yields.

In the sections below, I summarize the new programs and the impending decisions for Minnesota farmers based on my reading of the bill in February. However, please note that the final rules and interpretations will come from the USDA, and these may differ from my current interpretation.

What's gone!

Several previous programs are dropped in the new farm bill. Direct payments are gone (except for a declining amount for cotton growers). The ACRE and DCP programs are repealed. While the new programs may look similar to these, the rules are different: simpler in some ways, more complicated in other ways.

Choices for crop commodity programs

Under the new farm bill, crop farmers need to make a one-time, irrevocable decision to elect either the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) program or the Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) program. If a farmer elects the ARC program, they will need to choose between county coverage and individual farm coverage. Farmers can make the PLC and ARC-county decision crop by crop, and coverage is by individual crop. But, for the ARC individual farm coverage, all covered commodities on all the farmer's farms need to be enrolled, and coverage is for losses over all covered commodities not crop by crop.

And here's a warning. If all the producers on a farm fail to make a unanimous election of which program to enroll in, the bill says the Secretary of Agriculture may not make any payments to that farm for the 2014 crop year, and the farm will be deemed to have elected PLC for the 2015 through 2018 crop years.

Price Loss Coverage (PLC)

The Price Loss Coverage (PLC) program will make payments to farmers if a covered commodity's national average marketing year price is below its reference price (the new term instead of target price). Payments will be made on a crop by crop basis. For corn the reference price is $3.70 per bushel; for soybeans, $8.40; for wheat, $5.50. (Marketing years are October thru September for corn, September thru August for soybeans, and July thru June for wheat.) Under PLC, payments to farmers are made on the basis of the difference between the national average marketing year price and the reference price, the farmer's payment yield, and the farmer's payment acres. Farmers have a one-time opportunity to update payment yields from 93.5% of their 1998-2001 average yields to 90% of their 2009-2012 yields. If the 2009-2012 yield is 3.9% higher (0.935/0.9) than the 1998-2001 average, the best choice is probably to update. Payment acres will be 85% of either their current base acres (typically the average of their 1998-2001 acreages) or farmers can choose to reallocate their current base acre total according to their mix of crops in 2009-2012.

Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) - county coverage

In the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program, farmers can choose between county coverage and individual farm coverage. If either ARC option is chosen, the farm is not eligible for the Supplemental Coverage Option (SCO) under the crop insurance options in the farm bill.

In the county coverage option, crop revenue is estimated using average county yields. A payment is made if the ARC-county actual crop revenue is less than the ARC-county revenue guarantee. The ARC-county actual crop revenue is the actual county yield times the maximum of the national marketing year price or the loan rate specified in the farm bill. (The loan rate is $1.95 per bushel for corn, $5.00 for soybeans, and $2.94 for wheat.) The guarantee under the ARC-county coverage is 86% of the ARC-county benchmark revenue. The ARC-county benchmark revenue is the product of the most recent 5-year Olympic-average county yield and the most recent 5-year Olympic-average marketing year price. (The Olympic average is calculated by dropping the highest and lowest yield or price from the most recent 5-years and calculating the average based on the remaining 3 yields or prices.) Under the ARC-county choice, the payment rate per acre is the difference between the ARC-county guarantee and the actual revenue, but the payment rate cannot exceed 10% of the benchmark revenue. The ARC-county payment for a covered commodity is the ARC-county payment rate for that commodity times 85% of the farm's base acres for that commodity.

Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) - individual farm coverage

Within the ARC program, a farmer can choose individual farm coverage instead of county coverage (as described above). The ARC-farm coverage is based on all the covered commodities on the farm, not crop by crop.

Under ARC-farm coverage, a payment is made if the actual revenue from all covered commodities is less than the ARC-farm guarantee. The actual revenue for each year is determined by the farm's yield multiplied by the maximum of the national marketing year price and the crop's reference price, summed over all covered commodities and divided by the farm's planted acreage that year. The ARC-farm guarantee is 86% of the ARC-farm benchmark revenue. The ARC-farm benchmark revenue is the most recent 5-year Olympic-average of the revenue from all covered commodities weighted by the ratio of the acreage planted to a covered commodity and the total acreage of all covered commodities. The revenue for each year is determined by the farm's yield multiplied by the maximum of the national marketing year price and the crop's reference price. The ARC-farm payment rate per acre is the difference between the ARC-farm guarantee and the ARC-farm actual revenue, but the payment rate cannot exceed 10% of the ARC-farm benchmark revenue. Under the ARC individual farm coverage program, the payment for a farm is the ARC-farm payment rate for that farm times 65% of the farm's total base acres (compared to 85% for the county based coverage).

Payment and adjusted gross income (AGI) limits

The total amount of payments received, directly or indirectly, by a person or legal entity (except a joint venture or general partnership) for any crop year under the PLC and ARC programs and as marketing loan gains of loan deficiency payments (other than for peanuts) may not exceed $125,000.

A person or legal entity with a 3-year average adjusted gross income (AGI) over $900,000 is not eligible to receive any benefit from PLC and ARC programs, supplemental agricultural disaster assistance programs (for livestock and trees), marketing loan gains, loan deficiency payments, conservation programs (starting in 2015), and some other payments (from previous bills). AGI includes both farm and nonfarm income.

An early, initial assessment

The requirement to make a one-time, irrevocable election between PLC and ARC is a 5-year decision full of many uncertainties. An initial analysis for a few example farms in Minnesota shows that the ARC county coverage option is the best option for the 2014 crop year given current information. (This quick analysis does not include the option of adding SCO and other new crop insurance options starting in 2015.)

The reference prices under PLC ($3.70 for corn, $8.40 for soybeans, and $5.50 for wheat) are low compared to recent prices especially prices received in 2011 and 2012. For 2014, the markets seem to indicate a very low chance of a PLC payment for corn, a bit higher chance for soybeans, and perhaps a higher chance for wheat (but, in early February, less than 40%). The marketing years for 2015-2018 are full of more uncertainty. Unless market developments show an increase in worldwide production and thus decay in prices in the future in the weeks leading up to the as yet unannounced election deadline, the PLC option does not look like a viable option for Minnesota farmers.

The ARC individual coverage option appears less desirable due to the revenue loss being determined over all covered commodities and the payment calculated using 65% of base acres (versus 85% for the county option). A farmer will need to consider how variability in weather affects each of his or her crops differently. If the yields for different crops move together and are more variable than the county, then individual coverage may be the best choice. If crop yields do not move together and the farm's yield pattern seem to match the county yield variation pattern, then the county based ARC may be the best choice.

With so much uncertainty regarding the next 5 years (which is normal for any 5 years into the future), let's take a general view on the choice. PLC covers price drops and not yield losses. ARC covers revenue losses, that is, both price and yield changes. So, ARC is a more comprehensive program. If prices drop in a future year, this is likely due to higher total production so revenue will probably not drop as much as prices. If yields drop across a wide swath of the production area, prices will likely rise, so revenue won't drop as much as overall yields drop. If my farm and my county were to suffer a yield loss but most of the country does not suffer a yield loss, prices would likely not drop as much as my yield drops, so my revenue will drop. In this case, PLC would not make a payment, but ARC likely would make a payment. So for Minnesota, should a farmer bet on price changes or aim to protect revenue?

As the USDA finalizes the rules and with more time to fine tune these estimates and include more years as well as the SCO option starting in 2015, this initial assessment may need to be altered. But this is my view at this early date.

Choosing ACRE or DCP: The view in late May

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Earlier this month, the choice between the Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) program and the Direct and Countercyclical Program (DCP) seemed to be tilting towards signing up for DCP in 2013. Now in late May, that tilting towards DCP has strengthened for Minnesota farmers after the rapid planting rate, the improvement in soil moisture in Minnesota, and the recent upward price movements in future prices.

The rapid planting rate during May and the soil moisture improvement have made it harder to argue that yields will vary widely from averages and trends. So, ACRE payments appear to depend more on the future prices for the crops being planted now. The recent improvement in future prices for the new crop suggest that prices will not be at levels that make the actual state revenue below the benchmark.

Using trend yields for the state yields and historical yields for individual farms, my analysis of 17 example farms across Minnesota show that the breakeven Marketing Year Average (MYA) prices for individual crops are estimated to be about $4.35 per bushel for corn, $10.90 for soybean, and $5.35 for wheat. These are not absolute, but they do give us some information for decisions. If MYA prices were to drop below these price levels (and yields were at trend levels), the ACRE program would likely make a payment larger than the required 20% cut in direct payments under ACRE. If the MYA prices end up higher than these estimated breakeven prices, the DCP program would be the best program for the farmers.

Looking at recent history, the MYA price has tracked the Chicago futures price very closely for the December contract for corn and wheat and November for soybean. In late May, the Chicago price is over $5 for corn, over $12 for soybean, and over $7 for wheat. These are well above the breakeven prices I estimated for the 17 example farms. If these prices hold and yields are close to average levels, the DCP program would be the best choice.

However, there is still uncertainty on actual state and individual farm yields. So every farmer still needs to evaluate his or her own conditions and payment limits and decide whether the ACRE or DCP program is the best option for their farm in 2013.
Farmers and their advisers can use a worksheet provided by University of Minnesota Extension (http://z.umn.edu/dkf) to help them evaluate their situation for the 2013 decision.

As noted before, the extension of the 2008 Farm Bill opens up the decision to participate in either of the safety net programs: ACRE or DCP. Farmers have until June 3, 2013 to sign up for the ACRE program and August 2, 2013 for the DCP program.

Under the earlier rules of the 2008 Farm Bill, farmers who signed up for ACRE had to remain in ACRE through 2012. The extension changes that requirement. Even if farmers signed up for ACRE before, the extension allows them to change their choice and sign up for DCP if they think that is a better choice for them in 2013.

ACRE vs. DCP in 2013

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The extension of the 2008 Farm Bill opens up the decision to participate in the Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) program or the Direct and Countercyclical Program (DCP). Under the earlier rules of the 2008 Farm Bill, if a farmer signed up for ACRE, they had to remain in ACRE through 2012. But the extension changes that requirement. Even if farmers signed up for ACRE before, the extension allows them to change their choice and sign up for DCP if they think that is a better choice for them in 2013. (Farmers do have the option to not sign up for either program, but this is not a sensible choice for 2013 in almost all cases.)

Farmers have until June 3, 2013, to sign up for the ACRE program and August 2, 2013, for the DCP program.

The 2013 decision to sign up for ACRE involves some uncertainty because the drought of 2012 has cast doubt on the potential yields for 2013 and thus the potential market prices. Plus, changes in the demand side for grains may have weakened the market's ability to absorb higher production at current price levels.

At this point in late April, the decision seems to tilt towards the sign up for the DCP in 2013. As we learn more about the planting season and potential production levels and price movements, this situation may change. So farmers need to pay attention to these changes and make their final choice between ACRE and DCP closer to the deadline of June 3.

Due to this uncertainty and their individual situations, every farmer needs to evaluate their own conditions and payment limits and decide whether the ACRE or DCP program is the best option for their farm in 2013. Even if they had signed up for ACRE previously, they can change their choice under the extension of the farm bill for 2013.

Farmers and their advisers can use this Excel worksheet to help them evaluate their situation for the 2013 decision.

Kent Olson, Professor and Extension Economist, Applied Economics

May 2012

Direct payments to farmers under the current farm bill have been a small, but stable and important part of farmers' income. These direct payments are cut in the draft farm bill from the Agriculture Committee of the U.S. Senate.

In the last few years, those direct payments have been essentially the only government payments made to farmers on the basis of their crop acreage. Crop prices have been higher that the levels that would create payments under the counter-cyclical and ACRE programs. Based on the Minnesota farms in the FINBIN sample at the University of Minnesota, direct payments have been a fairly stable source of income for farmers: a five-year average of $13,044 for all farms in the sample and $17,980 for crop farmers. For all farms, the highest average payment was $13,873 per farm in 2010; the lowest was $12,399 per farm in 2011.

These direct payments have been a small part of gross cash farm income: 2% over the past 5 years for all of these farms and 2.8% for crop farmers. However, direct payments have been an important part of net farm income: 8.8% for all farms and 9.8% for crop farmers. These percentages have declined slightly over the past five years except for 2009 which was a low income year for farmers. For crop farmers, direct payments as a % of net farm income ranged from a low of 7.7% in 2011 to a high of 19.1% in 2009.

Direct payments are a fixed payment in contrast to Counter Cyclical payments that vary with price levels and ACRE payments which vary with price and yield levels. The policy draft from the committee replaces these three payment systems with a new program called Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and expanded insurance subsidies. These proposals will move federal farm support into more of a risk management program with coverage levels moving with changes in yields and market prices over a moving five year time frame.

Direct Payments table.pdf

ACRE Payments more likely for 2010

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If they did not sign up in 2009, farmers have until June 1, 2010, to sign their farms up for the Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) program, the optional safety net for farmers provided in the 2008 Farm Bill. And farmers should pay close attention to this decision for 2010.

Current research results from University of Minnesota Extension tilt towards the decision to sign up for the Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) program in 2010. The decision in 2009 was a toss up as to whether ACRE or counter-cyclical payments (CCP) was a better bet.

My example calculations point toward ACRE payments for corn, soybean and wheat in Minnesota, but this is not certain. There are many interrelated moving parts in this decision. To predict the probability of ACRE payments in the midst of uncertainty, I estimated the potential values and distributions of yields and prices for 2010 and combined them with the ACRE program's rules in a statistical model. The results estimate potential state ACRE payment rates in Minnesota near $50 per acre for corn, $30 for soybeans, and $27 for wheat, with positive payment rates estimated to occur in more than 50 percent of the estimations. Actual payments to individual farms would depend on whether each farm had a loss under ACRE rules, the second trigger in the ACRE program. However, these are just estimates. The possibility of no payments also exists.

Farmers who did not sign up for ACRE in 2009 need to evaluate their specific conditions and payment limits and decide which program is the best option for them in 2010. (Those who signed up for ACRE in 2009 cannot revoke this decision.)

Further information for Minnesota farmers and an Excel worksheet for analyzing the choice between ACRE and CC payments in 2010 are available in the Farm Bill section at Minnesota Extension's Ag Business Management web page. Also, further information on the ACRE and other FSA programs are available at local or State FSA offices or on FSA's Web site at: www.fsa.usda.gov.

2010 DCP and ACRE Signup begins, deadline June 1, 2010

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USDA announced today that the signup period for the 2010 Direct and Counter-Cyclical Program (DCP) and the Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) program has begun and will continue through June 1, 2010.

However, don't rush out to sign up. Let's watch how the programs unfold for the 2009 crop being harvested now. Let's see how the ACRE payments work for those signed up for ACRE.

Since the deadline is June 1, 2010, we'll have a good idea of actual planting decisions, but we won't know much about the weather for the 2010 crop. So the decision to switch from DCP to ACRE will require more analysis about potential yield variability on the farm and for the State as well as some estimates of price variability. We can't assume that the 2010 ACRE payment will be the same as the one for the 2009 crop. Stay tuned for more information about decision tools as we move into the fall and winter.

If you signed up for ACRE in 2009, you can't change back. That decision is irrevocable.

ACRE for 2009? More likely for corn and wheat

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If yesterday's yield and price forecast releases from USDA hold, the potential for a positive ACRE payment rate for Minnesota has increased. This is especially true for corn and wheat. If the low part of the WASDE price forecast becomes reality, we would likely see positive State ACRE payment rates for corn, soybeans, and wheat at current yield estimates.

However, the State payment rate is only the first trigger for an ACRE payment to an individual farm. The individual farm also has to have lower revenue than that farm's benchmark revenue. If a farm is expecting better than average yields from recent years, the farm may not receive a payment even if the State has a revenue shortfall.

And if farmers sign their farms up for the 2009 crop, the farm is enrolled for all four years. If farmers expect normal yields and future prices to be below recent levels, the ACRE program could look very attractive compared to the 20% cut in direct payments. If future prices are expected to increase, the likelihood of ACRE payments decreases.

Farmers have until August 14, 2009, to elect and enroll their farms in either the ACRE program or the Direct and Counter-cyclical Program (DCP) program for their 2009 crop.

Especially due to the closeness of this decision, every farmer needs to evaluate their own conditions and payment limits and decide whether the ACRE or DCP program is the best option for their farm in 2009. Further information for Minnesota farmers and an Excel worksheet for analyzing the choice between ACRE and CC payments is available in the 2008 Farm Bill section at Minnesota Extension's Ag Business Management web page. Also, further information on the ACRE and other FSA programs are available at local or State FSA offices or on FSA's Web site at: www.fsa.usda.gov.

ACRE for 2009? We're on the fence in late July

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With recent crop price declines, farmers have become more interested in whether they should sign up for the Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) program. And they are right to be more interested. Farmers have until August 14, 2009, to elect and enroll their farms in either the ACRE program or the Direct and Counter-cyclical Program (DCP) program for their 2009 crop.

For corn and soybeans, current average price and yield projections for the 2009-10 marketing year and the 2009 crop put potential actual state revenue for corn and soybeans essentially equal to the almost final state ACRE guarantees. If the actual is equal to or more than the guarantee, the State payment rate for ACRE would be zero. However, my estimates show that it doesn't take much of a price drop to have an ACRE payment rate that would cover the required 20% in direct payments (DP).

For wheat, the forecast wheat price for 2009-10 indicates a high likelihood that the potential ACRE payment will be greater than the required 20% reduction in direct payments. Any farmer with wheat needs to give serious consideration to signing up for ACRE instead of DCP and watch which direction price forecasts move before August 14.

This decision is not an obvious choice for corn and soybeans but it is becoming clearer, especially for wheat, as we learn more about where yields and prices may be for the 2009 crop and the 2009/10 crop marketing year. Under ACRE program rules, the revenue guarantees are being set fairly high for Minnesota due to good yields and high prices in recent years. But since forecast prices for 2009/10 are also quite high and Minnesota crop conditions are good for the 2009 crop (from a statewide perspective), actual revenue in Minnesota may not be low enough to trigger an ACRE payment large enough to counter the required 20% reduction in direct payments (DP). In Minnesota, the highest chance of an ACRE payment being made is for wheat. For corn and soybeans, the choice lies in great part on whether prices for the 2009-10 year will be lower than current forecasts, not what prices are doing right now, but what we think prices will be for the entire 2009-10 marketing year.

Especially due to the closeness of this decision, every farmer needs to evaluate their own conditions and payment limits and decide whether the ACRE or DCP program is the best option for their farm in 2009. Further information for Minnesota farmers and an Excel worksheet for analyzing the choice between ACRE and CC payments is available in the 2008 Farm Bill section in the left hand menu at Ag Business Management web page. More information on the ACRE and other FSA programs are available at local or State FSA offices or on FSA's Web site at www.fsa.usda.gov.

ACRE? -- a new worksheet

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A new Excel worksheet has been developed that makes a few corrections.

new Excel worksheet

ACRE? Sign up or not?

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Starting with the 2009 crop year, the Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) program is a new, optional safety net for farmers provided by Congress in the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (commonly called the farm bill). The ACRE program is based on changes in crop revenue. It is an alternative to the counter-cyclical (CC) program which is based only on changes in crop prices. Farmers have to choose between the two programs; they cannot receive benefits from both. At first, farmers may find this safety net based on crop revenue appealing; however, making this choice is more complicated than it first appears. The complexities essentially take away any possibility to develop simple decision rules or breakeven prices for farmers to make the decision to choose between ACRE and CC. The attached factsheet and Excel worksheet are designed to help farmers understand the ACRE program and to help farmers make the choice between ACRE and CC by estimating payments under different views of the future.
ABM factsheet
new Excel worksheet

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