Iowa Corn Farm 2008
A corn farm in Iowa. Reuters

A pair of public universities has created a new taxpayer-funded, free computer program aimed at helping farmers get the most out of federal farm subsidy programs. Kansas State and Oklahoma State universities jointly announced Monday that they were releasing a Microsoft Excel-based tool that "will allow farmers to evaluate the program and to start thinking about the option that best fits their farm." Then the farmers can make the agricultural plans that are most "to their advantage."

The nation's farm subsidy regime has come under fire in recent years, with critics calling it a waste of taxpayer money and a giveaway to major food corporations.

Between 1995 and 2012, about $256 billion in farm subsidies was doled out by the U.S. government, according to the Environmental Working Group.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture gave out a $6 million award for the development of tools and materials to assist farmers in understanding and utilizing programs created by the 2014 Farm Bill.

"Helping farmers and ranchers understand new Farm Bill programs and what the programs mean for their families is one of USDA's top priorities," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said May 29, when the USDA award was announced. "With the resources we're providing, university experts will help ensure farmers and ranchers are highly educated as they make critical decisions about new programs that impact their livelihoods."

The software, which is available for farmers to download here, can be used without an Internet connection once it is saved to a computer.

"Under the 2014 farm law, grain and soybean growers make a one-time choice whether to enroll in a program that shields crop revenues from shallow losses or a traditionally styled program with target prices," the Food & Environment Reporting Network reported. Farmers should sign up early next year for whichever program they deem best-suited to their particular operations and needs.