Focus on ag: Analyzing farm program decisions for 2021

Kent Thiesse
Farm Management Analyst and Vice President, MinnStar Bank

The deadline to sign-up for the 2021 farm program is Mar. 15 at local USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices throughout the United States.

Beginning with 2021 and continuing through 2023, farm program choices (PLC, ARC-CO or ARC-IC) will be made on an annual basis for each crop in each marketing year. This allows producers to choose or switch their farm program choices on each FSA farm unit for each given year. Eligible producers will be able to choose between the price-only Price Loss Coverage (PLC) and revenue-based Ag Risk Coverage (ARC) program choices. The ARC program choice includes both the county-yield based ARC-CO program choice and the ARC-IC program, which is based on farm-level yields.

The farm program choice between the PLC and ARC-CO is specific to each eligible crop and may vary on the same FSA farm unit. For example, a producer could choose PLC for corn and wheat and ARC-CO for soybeans on the same farm unit. The farm program choice can vary from farm unit to farm unit for the same crop. For example, a producer could choose PLC for corn in one county and ARC-CO in another county, if the farms are separate FSA farm units. The program choice for a crop on the same FSA farm unit must be the same, even if the farm unit includes several land parcels in multiple counties.

The ARC-IC program must be applied to all covered commodities on a given FSA farm unit, and all farm units in a state that are enrolled in ARC-IC are considered together in one ARC-IC calculation. In addition, ARC-IC payments are paid on only 65% of crop base acres, compared to payments on 85% of base acres for PLC and ARC-CO payments. This may limit situations where ARC-IC is a favorable farm program option. If producers do not make a 2021 farm program choice, they will automatically be enrolled into the same farm program choice that was selected for the 2019 and 2020 farm program.

Overview of the 2021 PLC and ARC-CO Decision

All 2021 PLC and ARC-CO payments for corn and soybeans will be based on the market year average (MYA) from Sept. 1, 2021 through Aug. 31, 2022. The MYA price is a monthly average farm-level price from throughout the U.S. that is “weighted” for the volume of bushels sold each month. The current increase in Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) or local cash grain prices will likely not impact the final 2021 MYA prices, unless the current prices are maintained into this fall and the first half of 2022.

Following is a brief overview of the farm program choice between PLC and ARC-CO for the 2021 crop and marketing year for corn, soybeans and wheat in most instances:

Corn: The most difficult decision between the PLC and ARC-CO program choice for 2021 is probably for corn, especially given the recent increase in CBOT and cash corn prices. However, the prospects for large U.S. corn acreage in 2021 and a trendline national average corn yield in 2021 could increase total U.S. corn supply and potentially put post-harvest pressure on corn prices. The final corn MYA price from 2014-2019 was $3.70 per bushel or lower, resulting in corn PLC payments from 2015-2019. Current estimates for the 2020 MYA price are $4.20 per bushel. The 2019 MYA price estimate in January of 2020 was $3.80 per bushel and the final MYA price ended at $3.56 per bushel.

The 2021 benchmark (BM) price for corn is $3.70 per bushel, which is the same price as the 2021 PLC reference price. PLC payments begin at a final MYA price below $3.70 per bushel, while potential 2021 ARC-CO payments will be dependent on final 2021 county average yields. At a final 2021 MYA price of $3.70 per bushel, the final county yield would need to be 15% or more below the county BM yield to initiate a 2021 ARC-CO payment. For example, if the county BM yield is 200 bushels per acre., the final 2021 county yield would need to be 170 bushels per acre or lower to initiate a 2021 ARC-CO payment.

Another way to look at the ARC-CO decision for corn is to consider that if the final 2021 county average yield is the same as the county BM yield, the final 2021 MYA price would need to decline below $3.20 per bushel in order to initiate an ARC-CO payment. At a $3.20 per bushel final MYA price, there would be a $.50 per bushel PLC payment. The PLC program provides corn MYA price protection from $3.70 down to $2.20 per bushel. Producers in very dry counties that have farm units that are susceptible to drought, or that have other farm units with potential 2021 yield challenges, may want to consider the corn ARC-CO program for 2021.

Soybeans: Given the current CBOT prices and local soybean price levels and projections, the 2021 farm program analysis probably leans toward ARC-CO in most instances. The 2021 soybean ARC-CO BM price is $8.95 per bushel and the 2021 PLC price is $8.40 per bushel. The final county yield for 2021 will likely need to be 15% or more below the 2021 county BM yield in order to initiate a 2021 soybean ARC-CO payment. This equates to a yield decline of 6-10 bushels per acre in most counties at current price projections. The possibility of 2021 ARC-CO payments could be more likely in areas facing drought potential for the coming crop year. The final 2021 soybean MYA price needs to drop below $8.40 per bushel to initiate 2021 PLC payments. The MYA price did not drop below $8.40 per bushel from 2014-2019 and will likely not drop below that level for the 2020 marketing year ends on Aug. 31, 2021. The current 2020 MYA soybean price estimate is $11.15 per bushel. There has never been a soybean PLC payment paid since the current farm program format was initiated in 2014.

Wheat: In many situations, the 2021 farm program decision may be easiest for wheat, with that decision being PLC. Both the 2021 wheat PLC reference price and the 2021 ARC-CO BM price are $5.50 per bushel, so the ARC-CO scenario is somewhat similar to corn. The 2021 marketing year for wheat runs from June 1, 2021 through May 31, 2022, so the current wheat price trends are probably more pertinent than with corn and soybeans. The final wheat MYA price was below $5.50 per bushel from 2015-2019, with substantial PLC payments earned in many of those years. The current projected MYA wheat price for 2020 is $4.85 per bushel, which would result in a 2020 PLC payment of $0.65 per bushel. Generally, wheat PLC payments have been more favorable than ARC-CO payments in most areas from 2014-2020.

Farm Program Decision Resources

The official farm program details and information is available on the FSA farm program website at: https://www.fsa.usda.gov/programs-and-services/arcplc_program/index

Following are some good Farm Program web-based decision tools to assist producers:

  • North Dakota State University: https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/farmmanagement/farm-bill
  • Kansas State University: http://www.agmanager.info/ag-policy/2018-farm-bill
  • University of Minnesota Extension: https://extension.umn.edu/business/farm-bill
  • Iowa State University: https://www.extension.iastate.edu/agdm/info/farmbill.html
  • University of Illinois FarmDoc website:
  • https://farmdocdaily.illinois.edu/category/areas/agricultural-policy/farm-bill

I have also prepared an information sheet titled “Evaluating 2021 Farm Program Decisions”. To request a free copy, send an e-mail to kent.thiesse@minnstarnak,com.

Kent Thiesse