Farmers participating in federal farm programs must make major decisions on their acreage base and yield history before Aug. 15, under rules of the recently passed Farm Bill.

To assist farmers and landowners in making the best decision for an individual farm, a spreadsheet tool has been developed by economists at the University of Missouri (MU) Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI).

Farmers can enter their crop history on base acres and yields to determine which option is best under the new rules, says Peter Zimmel of MU FAPRI.

The spreadsheet can be downloaded for use on a personal computer from the FAPRI web page at http://www.fapri.missouri.edu/. A button on the home page leads to the spreadsheet, which is titled: "Base and Yield Update Tool."

The spreadsheet is a work in progress, Zimmel says. The current version is based on the FAPRI readings of the new law, in consultation with the staff of agricultural committees of the U.S. Congress. The spreadsheet will be changed as USDA writes detailed regulations.

"The tool allows farmers to study the impact of the Farm Bill changes on their farm or farms," Zimmel says. "Studying the options in advance may save considerable time at the county Farm Service Administration (FSA) office."

Farmers enter their farm acreage and their Conservation Reserve or Wetland Reserve acreage. Also, if they participated in government programs in the past, they enter the base for each farm program crop and its historic yield.

Farmers will need the acreage for each crop, "planted or considered planted" for the crop years 1998 to 2001. And they need the yields for those crops in those years.

The new Farm Bill covers the seven basic program crops and adds soybean and minor oilseed crops, for a total of nine program crops.

The spreadsheet will fill in some information from the FAPRI database. For example, the Farm Bill allows a "plug" based on 75% of the county average to replace a low actual yield. Clicking on a pull-down menu for each county will automatically plug in the number for calculation. This will be useful, if one of the four previous crop years resulted in low yields on a farm.

"The spreadsheet was designed for easy use," Zimmel says. "It asks two basic questions: Changes in acres and changes in yield. There are a couple of alternatives under each, adding up to six options to consider."

For those without computers, local university extension centers will have access to the spreadsheet. Regional farm management specialists can assist with the calculation and answer questions.

The tool automatically inserts crop prices from the FAPRI baseline, or farmers can insert their own actual local prices, Zimmel says.

"A spreadsheet allows a farmer to ask many different 'what if' questions," Zimmel says. The answers can be studied in advance of going in for an appointment at the local FSA office.

Some regional extension specialists and members of the FAPRI representative farm panels tested a beta version of the program.

In a disclaimer on the web page, Zimmel writes that the results are not a recommendation, but a tool to help analyze options. The local FSA office will have the final answers.