FARGO, N.D. — In early February, the Farm Service Agency estimated that only 5% to 10% of farmers nationwide had selected their farm bill program, Agriculture Risk Coverage-County, Agriculture Risk Coverage-Individual or Price Loss Coverage.

With the deadline coming up, FSA offices across the country are trying to get farmers in the door to make their selection.

Laura Heinrich, program director at the North Dakota state Farm Service Agency office, said failing to make a selection by March 15 will mean giving up safety net payments for 2019.

“They would not be eligible for 2019 payments,” she said. “So it really is important, especially in this tough economic time in agriculture, that producers get in and make that program election so if a payment is triggered, they would be eligible.”

To get the word out, Heinrich said different states and counties have tried different approaches. Some even have offered prizes for the first farmers who make it in. Many North Dakota offices, she said, have sent out post cards either listing an appointment date and time or reminding producers to make appointments. In North Dakota, enrollment is up to 40%, but with little time remaining and so many producers still needing to get in, Heinrich said sticking to appointment times is vital.

“It’s just good time management for our county offices and the producers themselves,” she said. “We can help them and get them in and out in a timely manner.”

FSA also handles signup for disaster payments under the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus, or WHIP+. Heinrich said county offices will be able to start signing people up for that program once they get through all the ARC/PLC signups.

Three choices

Agriculture Risk Coverage-County, or ARC-CO, provides income support tied to historical base acres, not current production, of covered commodities. ARC-CO payments are issued when the actual county crop revenue of a covered commodity is less than the ARC-CO guarantee for the covered commodity.

Agriculture Risk Coverage-Individual, or ARC-IC, program payments are issued when the actual individual crop revenue for all covered commodities planted on the ARC-IC farm is less than the ARC-IC guarantee for those covered commodities. ARC-IC uses a producer’s certified yields rather than county level yields.

Price Loss Coverage, or PLC, program payments are issued when the effective price of a covered commodity is less than the respective reference price for that commodity. The effective price equals the higher of the market year average price or the national average loan rate for the covered commodity.

Deciding which of the programs is the right fit for each farm is not an easy thing. Heinrich said several university Extension programs have created guides. In the Northern Plains, she said North Dakota State University’s tools can be helpful. She said The University of Minnesota, Texas A&M and University of Illinois also have helpful tools, though those are more geared toward corn and soybean farmers, without as much consideration for other commodities.

Under the 2014 Farm Bill, farmers made program selections that lasted for five growing seasons. But the 2018 Farm Bill changed that, allowing for switching among the programs more frequently. The 2019 selection will cover 2019-20, but farmers then will be able to choose a different program in 2021, 2022 and 2023. Farmers will have the ability to sign a multi-year contract if they don't want to return annually to sign up, Heinrich said.