Agriculture's Big Picture
AgWeb Editor Greg Vincent takes a big-picture look at agriculture and current events.
USDA Has a Major Image Problem
Oct 13, 2011
About a year ago an Illinois farmer called me from his combine cab. He was questioning the need for USDA to continue reporting because in his mind they are always wrong. I listened. I understood his concerns, but then I posed a question to him:
- Without USDA reports, where do you get the baseline for any production or stocks numbers?
- If we did away with them, would that actually put farmers at an unfair disadvantage to grain buyers who can afford to employ statisticians of their own to get a global view of market supply and demand?
- As a farmer you may very well indeed have an idea of what is happening in your county, or even your state. But what about what things are really like in Ohio, Colorado or anywhere else for that matter?
He is not alone in his feelings about USDA and after the questions I posed in last week’s blog, those feelings extend beyond one farmer’s opinion. This I wasn’t surprised about.
What did surprise me, however, was the level of distrust out there about USDA and their reports. And more surprising is the reason people have these feelings about USDA.
The responses were collected over 4 days and 773 offered their opinion about USDA.
I asked people to tell me which of the following statements best describes their attitude about USDA reports. Here are the options and the results:
||% Agreeing with this statement
|They are almost always accurate.
|They are as accurate as they can be with the data from farmers and the industry.
|They are inaccurate, but it's because of the data USDA gets from farmers and industry.
|They're inaccurate because USDA's methods are outdated.
|USDA manipulates the numbers to get what they want.
In short, I'm not sure I agree with these numbers. USDA may be inaccurate. They may have outdated methods. But I have met the statisticians who put these reports together. I don't believe they are manipulating the numbers.
Are you surprised at these numbers?