With deadlines set for enrollment in the 2014 farm bill’s crop programs in February and March, farmers have only a few weeks left to make decisions about key farm safety net decisions, said a farm policy expert in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.

These decisions are significant considering that enrollment in the farm bill’s crop programs will last through the life of the legislation, which will expire after the 2018 crop year, said Carl Zulauf, an agricultural economist with the college.

The farm bill’s crop program enrollment includes the following deadlines:

  • Feb. 27 is the last day to update yield history or allocate base acres.
  • Mar. 31 is the last day to enroll in one of the three new crop safety net programs: the Agricultural Risk Coverage County program (ARC-CO), the Agricultural Risk Coverage Individual program (ARC-IC), or the Price Loss Coverage program (PLC).

“I strongly urge producers and landowners to make these decisions,” Zulauf said. “It is rare that an opportunity exists to update program yield and to change the mix of program base acres.

“These decisions also may apply to subsequent farm bills.”

 The last time producers could make these types of decisions was the 2002 farm bill, he said.

“The process is not difficult for these two decisions,” Zulauf said. “The decision on program choice requires more thought but decision aids exist.”

If a farm’s yield history is not updated or base acres are not allocated by the Feb. 27 deadline, then the farm’s current yield and base acre allocation presently on file with the USDA’s Farm Service Agency will remain valid through the 2018 crop year, he said.

If a program enrollment decision is not made by March 31, then for the 2014 crop year no payment will be made and the farm’s crop program enrollment will default to the PLC program for the 2015 through 2018 crop years, Zulauf said.

Of significance for the 2014 crop year, these programs have the potential to make substantial payments for the first time since 2005 due to the current low price and revenue environment for corn, soybeans and wheat, he said.

“While payments are not a given, if they materialize they could help farmers and land owners transition during this low revenue period,” Zulauf said.

Payments are most likely for corn if prices remain at current levels. For example, for Ohio, using yields as of January 2015 at the state level and projected U.S. prices for the 2014 crop year, payments for PLC appear to be in the $5/program acre range and in the $70/program acre range for ARC-CO.

However, Zulauf said, these are state average payments and payments will vary by farm and county according to their yield and according to prices that have yet to be determined for the rest of the 2014 crop year.

Zulauf has created several tools to help farmers make their enrollment decisions, which are available at go.osu.edu/crop_decisions. The tools include policy briefs, links to program calculators, and video presentations overviewing the crop program decision that farmers will need to make.

The website focuses on the questions producers must consider when making their decisions and offers users a broad perspective on the decisions from Zulauf’s decades of farm policy research. The tools aim to work in collaboration with existing farm bill decision calculators, helping to place them in perspective, he said.

In his work at Ohio State, Zulauf specializes in commercial agricultural policy and commodity futures and options markets research. He spent most of 1985 on assignment with U.S. Sen. John Glenn’s staff during the writing of the 1985 farm bill.

Zulauf has also testified before Congress on farm policy and wrote a paper that laid out many of the principles that helped guide the development of the Average Crop Revenue Election farm program enacted in the 2008 farm bill and the ARC program in the 2014 farm bill.