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What if farmers and USDA changed places?

One of the certainties of life, or at least of agricultural journalism, is that some farmers will be critical of the annual Prospective Plantings report.

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One of the certainties of life, or at least of agricultural journalism, is that some farmers will be critical of the annual Prospective Plantings report.

Released in late March by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistical Service (NASS), the report -- based on farmer surveys -- is the ag department's best guess of how many acres farmers will plant to individual crops in the coming year. The report influences prices, which in turn affects what farmers ultimately plant.

Farmers, farm groups and others in ag routinely express doubts about the report each spring after it's issued. They say it understates how many acres will be planted to some crops, overstates how many will be planted to other crops. Some of the aggies say it diplomatically: "Well, we were surprised by a few of the numbers; they're not what we were expecting.'' Some of the aggies say it less than diplomatically: "Those numbers are crazy." (Except they use other words, which I won't repeat here, instead of crazy.)

Well, I was surprised by a few of the numbers in the 2018 report, released last Thursday; they weren't what I was expecting. (Yes, I'm being diplomatic.) Like many others involved in Upper Midwest ag, I thought the report would show modest increases in both wheat and soybean acreage. Instead, NASS predicted a big increase in wheat and a small decrease in soybeans. And I -- and a lot of other people much smarter than me -- still think there will be modest increases in both wheat and soybean, especially if we have a late spring. (Wheat, a cool-season grass, typically fares best when planted early. So a late spring would lead to more soybeans, which can be planted safely later than wheat.)

No USDA/NASS-bashing from me. Their folks take the information they get and make the best projections they can at the time. The guess are never perfect -- they can't be -- but they're usually pretty good.

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Here's my thought. Obviously it's impossible and never will happen. But wouldn't it be interesting if USDA/NASS officials and farmers could switch places for purposes of the report? If ag department staffers were responsible for reporting planting intentions on individual farm and farmers, in turn, were responsible for analyzing those responses and then generating Prospective Plantings?

Do you think the final projections would be a bit more accurate? Do you think there would be less criticism after the report released? 

In any case, I always enjoy writing about the Prospective Plantings report. It's always interesting and important. And it means spring is coming.

Read more of my blogs at www.agright.areavoices.com/ .

 

 

Opinion by Jonathan Knutson
Plain Living
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