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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:
Statement % Agreeing with this statement
They are almost always accurate. 0.52%
They are as accurate as they can be with the data from farmers and the industry. 5.3%
They are inaccurate, but it's because of the data USDA gets from farmers and industry. 7.63%
They're inaccurate because USDA's methods are outdated. 18.11%
USDA manipulates the numbers to get what they want. 68.43%
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 They may have outdated methods.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?
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COMMENTS (19 Comments)

Youhavegottobekiddinme - VA
You people really think that the stats who work for the government have the data they need to influence the markets in the direction they want them to go? Do you have any idea how difficult that is?

If they had that data, do you think that USDA would be asking you for your info?

By the way, who is deciding which way the USDA numbers should go? Is it the president? The sec of Ag? Maybe it's the Commodity traders that are calling up the Ag stats baord and telling them what to publish. Maybe it's the Congressionial Ag committee.

I got it! It's the aliens from Area 51!

Out of all the government conspiracy theories I've heard, they idea that the USDA is competent enough to produce reports that will accurately influence the markets in the direction (and amount!) "they" "want" them to is probably the silliest. Ranks right up ther with "we never landed on the moon."
2:40 PM Oct 18th
Hans - ND
The last report had wheat supplies at 835 million bushels WTF!!!! in NE ND we has up to 70% prevent plant in west ND they had over 80% PP. Montana had lots of pp as well...the wheat that we did plant here in NE ND was average to below in yield...my harvester from SD had very poor yields of 25 bushels an acre....in minnesota it was the same...we all know what happened in KS OK and TX this summer so is it any wonder that farmers dont believe the USDA!!!! I have been farming since the 60's and USDA always skews the numbers when they don't want to create a panic...obviously they blew that call in 2008 when wheat went to $20 and they don't want that to happen again!!!! After all the millers and bakers can't make super profits like they have been for the past 40 years or so
7:27 PM Oct 16th

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