What-If Farming

Online tool is an interactive budgeting resource

32174626[1]An online tool to help young farmers build projected budgets for their operations has been developed by the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri. The Farm Cost and Return Tool, or Farm CART, was funded by a USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Grant.

“The tool allows beginning farmers and ranchers to play a what-if game on the web,” said Peter Zimmel, FAPRI agricultrual economist. “They can develop a farm with how many acres and animals they want, and then see what it will look like financially over the next five years.”

The USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher project was started because farmers are getting older and their numbers are decreasing. Zimmel said USDA is looking for ways to educate people thinking of starting a farm.

1367307Farm CART can also be used by existing farmers looking for the best ways to grow their operations.  Zimmel said the tool can be used by anyone who wants help making better informed agricultural finance decisions.

“With the risk involved in agriculture, you really need to plan out the future,” Zimmel said. “What will a certain decision do?  Is it feasible to continue to farm the way you’re farming?”

Zimmel said the program helps farmers calculate the risks associated with farming.  This includes how much credit will be needed and how much it will cost. The program also helps test budgets years into the future.

“One of the strengths of this tool is that you can make a farm that looks like X,Y and Z, and then go back and add soybeans and see what the difference is financially,”  Zimmel said.

Zimmel said his FAPRI team spent a lot of time making Farm CART easy to use. Very little information has to be entered before farmers can play the “what-if” games.

Information from FAPRI’s annual baseline projection and USDA data is programmed into the tool. “All the costs for seed, fertilizer and chemicals are there,” Zimmel said. “But if users want, they can customize those inputs to a specific operation.”

The Farm CART is free. Zimmel said that all a user has to do is select the state and county and go.

To use Farm CART, visit www.fapri.missouri.edu/projects.