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Improve Reliability of Yield Forecasts in USDA's November Report

Limited objective yield samples make estimates on corn and soybean yields that farmers provide more crucial in USDA's November crop yield forecasts.

Published on: Oct 25, 2013

The upcoming November USDA Crop Production Report will not answer all of the questions on 2013 crop yields. The reason is simple. The field component results will be less reliable because USDA's National Ag Statistics Service will be basing the yield estimates on fewer than the normal number of samples its enumerators typically collect in the field.

In addition to samples taken in fields for the September, October and November crop reports, NASS also contacts lists of farmers to ask them how their crops yielded. Limited data on samples collected in the field makes those responses from farmers more crucial in calculating the upcoming November crop estimates.

Limited objective yield samples make estimates on corn and soybean yields that farmers provide more crucial in USDAs November crop yield forecasts.
Limited objective yield samples make estimates on corn and soybean yields that farmers provide more crucial in USDA's November crop yield forecasts.

You may get a phone call from NASS between Oct. 28 through Nov. 5. If so, kindly give the NASS enumerator your best estimates on yields. Your data count more than normal for the upcoming crop report.

Shut down limited October field samples

In the day or two prior to the government shut down, NASS field enumerators collected some samples in fields for the objective yield component that normally feeds into the October crop report. Some of those samples got shipped to USDA's analytical lab in St. Louis.

Unfortunately, due to the shutdown, the samples did not get processed. More unfortunately, some of the corn samples, predominantly those in the dent stage and with relatively high moisture content molded while being held up in various stages of shipment because the shutdown prevented USDA from taking delivery.

Lack of sample data extends into November report

"NASS enumerators also normally take samples of ears and pods for the November crop report estimates," says Joe Prusacki, Director of Statistics Division at NASS. However, as harvest geared up, the government shut down. As a result some of the fields where NASS would have collected samples for the November crop report were harvested before NASS enumerators got there. That unfortunate development also reduces the number samples that will have final harvest data going into the November forecast.

"As you would expect, more of the final yield samples ended up not being collected in areas where harvest progressed most rapidly," he notes. "NASS collected closer to the normal number of samples in areas where crops are normally harvested later."

NASS designs the field sample pattern to be random across any given state. Suppose the southern half of a state such as Illinois got harvested before the government resumed business and enumerators got there to take the final samples. NASS enumerators could not collect a final sample for the November report.

"In such cases NASS uses the most recent previous month's data received from that sample location," says Prusacki. "Fields that have already been harvested are still represented in the sample. They are just using less mature information."

NASS will be calling farmers from Oct. 28 through Nov. 5 to collect data on how farmers have assessed their yields. If you're called, kindly give NASS your best estimates. Your data count more than normal for the upcoming crop report. Data from your individual operation will be kept confidential.