BOWLING GREEN — The Ohio Farmers Union held a Farm Bill Implementation Forum on Friday, July 25, at Bowling Green State University to help area farmers wade through the complexities of the 2014 Farm Bill. A panel of experts, including Jonathan McCracken, Legislative Agriculture Assistant to Senator Sherrod Brown, Joe Shultz, Chief Economist for the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, and Dr. Carl Zulauf, a professor in the Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics at Ohio State University, gave an overview of the bill followed by a question and answer session.

Ohio farmers have a lot to consider this season as they are faced with changes imposed by the Farm Bill. Under the new bill, direct payments are a thing of the past. Instead, farmers will choose between two different Farm Safety Net programs, Price Loss Coverage (PLC), a price-based assistance program, and Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC), a farm revenue-based program. The choices made now will span the duration of the five year bill, so, the panelists stressed, farmers need to do their homework.

According to Joe Shultz, six million dollars was built into the Farm Bill for outreach and education. Online tools will be available this fall to help with the decision-making process, although farmers shouldn’t rely on these tools for a definitive answer, Dr. Zulauf warned.

“The word I would use is guidance. I don’t think they’re a decision tool. I think they provide you with information. They allow you to run scenarios, to look at different options for yourself, and to better inform the decision, but I think, ultimately, you know yourself best, you know your farm best,” he said.

The panelists fielded questions about fruit and vegetable crop versus commodity crop coverage, navigating the program selection process, and how the bill would affect specific farms. Concerns about the sheer complexity of the bill echoed throughout the Bowen-Thompson Student Union’s Grand Ballroom.

“What I’m struck by most is how incredibly complicated this all is and I just wonder how it is that farmers can find their way through all this bureaucracy,” said one attendee.

The deadline for program sign-up has yet to be determined, so farmers still have time to get information. Once chosen, programs will retroactively affect the 2014 growing season.