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Tool helps farmers make update decisions
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- A recent Mississippi State University Extension Service effort helped farmers faced with difficult decisions brought about by the 2002 Farm Bill.
"The 2002 Farm Bill gave producers the chance to update their base acres and program yields to reflect more recent production history. But there were several factors that made this decision very complex, so farmers needed some help evaluating their options," said John Anderson, MSU Extension agricultural economics professor.
The previous Farm Bill, in 1996, based a portion of farmers' government payments on base and yield numbers from the early 1980s. The 2002 Farm Bill continued the practice of tying significant payments to a farm's base rather than to actual production. Depending on how their crop mix and yields changed over those two decades, farmers were faced with the decision to update those numbers or keep the old ones.
"This decision could have a big economic impact on farmers," Anderson said. "Differences in prices, crops planted and several other factors made this a difficult and time-consuming decision for farmers to make."
For instance, under the 1996 Farm Bill, a farmer's base and yield numbers could reflect a high rate of cotton production, which results in a higher government payment. But if in recent years the farmer had been planting soybeans instead of cotton, the payment would decrease. The 2002 Farm Bill allowed farmers the option of staying with the current numbers or updating them.
Because of the potential economic impact, Anderson began work on a spreadsheet that would simplify the decision-making process. The MSU Base Acreage and Yield Decision Tool was based on a program initially begun at Louisiana State University. The MSU program performed basically the same functions as a Web-based program from Texas A&M University, but strived for simplicity and accessibility for producers in Mississippi.
Farmers were faced with gathering a mass of paperwork -- verifiable production evidence including weight tickets, loan deficiency payments, crop insurance appraisals or sales records, as well as Farm Service Agency records to establish farm yields. Once this information was collected, farmers then had to make sense of the multitude of figures.
The spreadsheet helped farmers analyze the economic consequences of the updating options outlined in the 2002 Farm Bill, taking into consideration potentially risky crop prices and their impacts on payment rates. The daunting task became much more manageable with MSU's easy-to-use spreadsheet.
"Farmers could get their previous base and yield numbers from the Farm Service Agency, as well as current numbers reflecting 1998-2001 production history," Anderson explained. "With this tool, farmers just had to sit down with that information and plug it into a spreadsheet."
Once they knew an easier method existed and was easily available, Anderson said farmers across the state quickly took advantage of the beneficial tool. Extension county and area agents received training in using the spreadsheet, which made the process that much simpler for farmers.
"It was very helpful to the farmers. We had well into the hundreds of people in Mississippi who used the decision-aid spreadsheet," he said.
It was so successful that several other states requested the MSU Extension spreadsheet to help farmers in other areas.
Contact: Dr. John Anderson, (662) 325-1788