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The Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) at the University of Missouri has developed an online tool to help farmers build projected budgets for their operations.

The Farm Cost and Return Tool, or Farm CART, is at

“The tool allows beginning farmers and ranchers, not only in Missouri but all over the country, to play a what-if game on the Web,” said FAPRI economist Peter Zimmel. “They can develop a farm with how many acres they want, how many animals they want, and they can see what it will look like financially over the next five years.”

Farm CART was funded by a Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Grant from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher project was started because the age of the average farmer is increasing and the number of farmers is decreasing. USDA is looking for ways to educate people who may want to start farming in the future, Zimmel said.

FAPRI developed Farm CART to help producers who are either thinking about farming or are looking to grow their operation, but Zimmel says the tool can benefit anyone who wants help making better-informed agricultural finance decisions.

“With the risk that is involved in agriculture, you really need to plan for the future,” Zimmel said. “What’s the future look like for your farming operation? Is it feasible to continue to farm the way you’re farming?”

Farm CART uses the baseline projections that FAPRI produces every year. The tool can provide budgets based on a selected location but can also be customized to a specific operation.

“One of the strengths of this tool is that producers can say they want to make a farm that looks like X, Y and Z, and see how that looks financially,” Zimmel said. “But then they can go back and add soybeans and see what the difference is financially. Is it a positive or a negative? Then they can go back and make a better-informed decision if they should grow their farm that way.”

Zimmel says a lot of effort went into making Farm CART easy to use. He says there is very little information that producers have to enter before they can play those what-if games. Information from the FAPRI baseline as well as the USDA is programmed in, so all that is needed is the number of acres or animals.

“All the information we start them with, all the costs for seed, fertilizer or chemicals, is there,” Zimmel said. “But if they want to they can customize that to their specific operation and change every number in there.”

The Farm CART is free to use and there is no sign-up or registration required. Zimmel says all you have to do is select the state and county and you are ready to go.

“There aren’t many tools with the ability to project out five years, especially in a Web-based tool with all the information from FAPRI and USDA,” Zimmel said. “One of the big benefits of Farm CART for a producer who is either getting ready to start farming or wants to make a change to their operation, they can look at it before actually going out there and spending the money to try and do it.”

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