What’s Needed to Improve USDA Estimates and Forecasts?

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NASS and World Board willing to discuss, act on changes if needed - Funding key issue

Here is a pdf link to a Special Report on a topic that needs an in-depth assessment, which is why I have taken the time (weeks) to interview industry and government officials and analysts, check with lawmakers and congressional staff, and talk with and receive emails from farmers on a complex issue: USDA estimates and forecasts.

Ever since social media went mainstream, comments, some visceral, started appearing regarding USDA reports. Some of those came from people woefully short of knowing the history behind such government estimates and forecasts and the process itself. This report hopes to educate on that front.

The report also raises legitimate questions and discusses issues by those asked about the topic, including areas for improvement.

My history covering USDA started in 1972 while I was still in St. Louis, Missouri, working for the Doane’s Agricultural Report, eventually bought by Farm Journal Media, who I currently have a connection with. I worked for many years with Pro Farmer and still do, having returned to Pro Farmer after working for 20 years with Sparks Companies/Informa Economics. There was one topic that was paramount in my working with all those firms: monitoring and covering USDA crop and livestock estimates (NASS) and demand, ending stocks and price forecasts (World Agricultural Outlook Board) via the WASDE report. Those firms also had their own estimates and forecasts, so I quickly learned the difficulty of that process, and the humility needed when such assessments were off base and the need to seek out and implement improvements. The Pro Farmer Crop Tour is an excellent example in educating many about assessing the corn and soybean crop.

I covered USDA when the World Board was put in place (more on that in the Special Report). As for NASS (SRS when I first reported on the agency), I recall going to the basement of USDA’s South Building, room 0054, and standing on a line with other reporters until the clock struck 3 p.m. ET when in those days Crop Reports were issued. We then picked up the open phone lines in the cubicles behind the lines and raced to present the information      to copy writers who published the information via various outlets. A lot has changed since then, including the timing of the reports. What has also dramatically changed is the ag sector itself, both in the U.S. and around the world. Those changes added to the complexity of some things at USDA, especially the rise of China and its voracious appetite for protein.

This Special Report is by no means the last word but hopefully a preface to a review of the topics ahead by experts and other interested parties, including Congress. I tapped my colleagues at Pro Farmer for assistance in tackling this project and I also got help from Roger Bernard, my former longtime colleague at both Pro Farmer and Informa Economics. A special thanks to those of you who read drafts and made the end results more accurate and informative.

pdf link to the Special Report



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