A packed hall at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 96th Annual Convention and IDEAg Trade Show got a tutorial on two systems designed to help farmers make the right farm bill choices in the coming years. The workshop, Farm Bill Decision Tools: What Farmers Need to Know, was co-hosted by Gary Schnitkey, professor, Department of Agriculture Economics at the University of Missouri and Patrick Westhoff, professor, Department of Agriculture Economics and Director of the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri.

There are essentially three real choices that a farmer makes under the 2014 farm bill. The first two are straightforward, while the third takes more thought and research. Luckily, there are online tools, put together by the University of Illinois and Texas A&M, to help.

AFPC Decision Aid (usda.afpc.tamu.edu) requires the user to create a profile, but will save the user’s data and gives information on different crop insurance options. Farm Bill Tool Box (farmbilltoolbox.farmdoc.illinois.edu/) helps guide farmers through seven steps that help them make the three necessary decisions. The Agriculture Policy Analysis System (fsa.usapas.com/) allows farmers to get accurate information on which program is most likely to pay out more given the crop price.

“Program yields and base acres are easy,” Schnitkey explained. “Just pick the highest yield and whatever will put the most crop in the ground.”

The third choice between Agriculture Risk Coverage – County and Price Loss Coverage was the focus of a majority of the workshop. Both parties agreed that the Agriculture Risk Coverage – Individual, isn’t a very practical option and will pay out less in almost every situation.

A farmer will need information on at least their last five years of yield. The more information entered; the more accurate information produced.

“The more history you have, the better,” Westhoff said. “But at the very least you need at least the past five years to do it right.”

No matter what tool is chosen or decision made, both presenters recommended farmers and ranchers figure it out quickly and start submitting the necessary information.

“Your decisions aren’t going to be that hard, but the process is going to be longer than you think,” Schnitkey said.