As rain continues to hamper planting progress in Corn Belt states such as Missouri and Kansas, farmers across the U.S. wonder how final acreage totals will be affected. In an effort to clarify the process USDA follows for acreage reports, AgWeb.com reached out to Lance Honig, Chief of the Crops Branch at USDA‘s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), for answers.
In his responses, Honig describes the intensive process of contacting farmers face to face, tabulating data and maintaining consistent protocol from one year to the next. He acknowledges a re-survey is possible following the June 30 report, and he describes what that process would entail.
What methodology does USDA typically follow for its June 30 reports? Will your team members call individual farmers and tabulate what has actually been put in the ground to date?
The estimates in the June Acreage report are based on data gathered from two major surveys of farmers during the first two weeks of June. The June Acreage and Production survey has a sample size of over 70,000 farmers across the country. Each respondent reports their acreage planted (or to be planted) for each crop. Farmers are given the opportunity to respond via mail, phone or online. Some producers are contacted face-to-face by a trained enumerator. Additionally, NASS conducts an area based survey of nearly 11,000 segments of land (approximately 1 square mile each) across the country. Enumerators account for every acre of land within the boundaries of these segments, recording all acres planted (or to be planted) by crop. This results in an additional 40,000 farmer contacts. This survey is completed entirely by personal contact by trained enumerators.
What changes, if any, will USDA make to its June 30 methodology in 2015 to account for unplanted acres in states such as Missouri, Iowa and Kansas? For example, will you place follow-up phone calls to localities about acres that are currently unplanted?
Survey procedures for this June were the same as in previous years. In addition to recording acres planted and to be planted on the area survey, the number of acres for each field that were still left to be planted at the time of the interview were recorded. These data are being analyzed by NASS to determine whether or not any re-contacts need to be made for these acres. A determination will be made prior to the release of the Acreage report on June 30. Should a re-interview survey be necessary, a notice would be issued following the release of the Acreage report.
Are there pieces of information we will not be able to determine from the June 30 reports, going back to the question of unplanted acres? In other words, will we need to wait until July and beyond to get a better feel for how many acres farmers left unplanted because of weather?
All estimates in the Acreage report will be based on the information gathered from the surveys mentioned above, including some reported acreage left to be planted at the time of the interview. Should a re-interview survey be conducted, acreage estimates for the affected crops and States would be re-evaluated, and if changes are necessary we would publish them in the August Crop Production report. Again, this information would be detailed in a notice following the release of the Acreage report.
If you could compare the current situation of weather uncertainties to a time in the past, which year(s) would you liken it to?
Each year is somewhat unique, as delays in planting will typically vary by state and crop.
What perspective can you give our farmers on the number of hours, personnel and so on that are invested in getting a good read for these monthly reports? What factors help or challenge you in getting accurate acreage totals that might help farmers—many of whom are frustrated by seemingly conflicting information from a variety of sources, e.g. USDA, market analysts, first-hand reports by fellow farmers—make better sense of the variations that occur in crop estimates?
NASS utilizes more than 3,000 part-time enumerators across the country to gather the information from farmers during the first two weeks of June. Full-time staff within the 12 regional field offices as well as headquarter units work diligently analyzing the data and formulating the estimates throughout the entire month of June. Because the data are gathered directly from the producers, accurate and complete reporting is the best way to ensure accurate results. These (and nearly all) NASS surveys are voluntary, so farmer support is critical to the process.
What other comments would you like to make?
NASS would like to sincerely thank all of the farmers across the country who took the time out of their busy schedules to provide information concerning their operations when contacted recently. The estimates contained in NASS reports are used by all facets of the agriculture industry to make informed decisions. The Acreage and Grain Stocks reports that will be published on June 30 are critical sources of information, based on the most complete and comprehensive data available. These and all other NASS reports are made available free of charge to everyone at precisely the same time, leveling the playing field. These estimates become the benchmark used by virtually everyone throughout the industry, and are considered the gold standard both for the United States and throughout the world.