“I think there will be choice,” says Outlaw. “We work closely with the House, and it’s a No. 1 priority for them to give farmers a choice and let them pick what is best for them. I’ll think they’ll fight for that to the end, and that it’ll be in the final bill.”

Some producers will hate those choices, and some will embrace them, he says, but either way, there will be less of a safety net available to farmers.

“My concerns as a policy educator is that we have to come up with a good decision aid for producers,” says Outlaw. “I think the safety net will be substantially less. They’ll put more money in crop insurance, but crop insurance is risk-based, and if you don’t have problems you won’t get paid. Regardless of what happens, there will be less of a safety net for producers going forward. It’ll all be about money and getting the final votes to get this bill done.”

It’s a tough time, he says, to get things done in Washington, D.C., especially when it comes to deciding which elements of the farm bill take the largest cuts.

“To get more of the Tea Party House members on board, you need to make the nutrition program smaller, but then you lose people from the Democratic side if you take too much. Ultimately, I think they’ll take more money from commodity programs, says Outlaw.

For those who work with decision aids and education for producers, there’s a lot to do, he says. “It’s not going to be easy for producers to decide which farm program to sign up for. As an Extension community, we have to come together to develop decision aids.”

As far as farm bills beyond the one currently being debated, Outlaw isn’t very optimistic. “In the world of Washington and the sequestration, broader cuts are coming. In the next farm bill, I believe crop insurance will be the only safety net. I don’t see the political will there to fight for it.”

A recent report from an international organization stated that the amount of spending on farm programs in developed countries throughout the world is going down, and that’s a trend that’ll probably continue, says Keith Coble, Mississippi State University Extension economist.

“This is where we’re at, to a large extent,” said Coble at the outlook conference. “We’re likely going to be spending less on farm programs 10 years from now than we are today. That’s the trend we’re currently seeing.”