One of the most frequent questions I receive at the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) is, “How can we accurately forecast agricultural production?” After all, anyone in the agriculture industry knows that regardless of how accurate you are, every year the weather can wreak havoc on any forecasts.
This is why NASS doesn’t simply rely on formulas when we prepare our forecasts. Our data incorporate input from hundreds of thousands of farmers and ranchers across the United States.
The past few years have given us a great opportunity to highlight the importance of farmer surveys. Last year, producers were battered by some of the most significant floods on record, which were followed by a summer that broke several heat records.
Although many crops were affected, one result was that U.S. growers produced significantly less wheat. North Dakota farmers, the nation’s leading Durum wheat growers, planted a record-low number of acres in 2011. If farmers themselves didn’t report this information to us, there would be no other way NASS could accurately estimate the results of such an unusual year.
A similarly unusual situation is also occurring in 2012. The year started off with an early spring that brought very favorable conditions, allowing the farmers to get their seed in the ground much earlier than in the past.
Unfortunately the fickle weather quickly changed and farmers across the country were hit with some of the most severe drought conditions in decades. Unlike last year, however, it seems that wheat and other small grain growers have been able to harvest most of the winter wheat before this year’s extreme weather set in, while the largest spring wheat growing area escaped the most severe drought conditions, potentially allowing growers to rebound from last year’s results.
In the next few weeks, NASS will survey more than 80,000 farmers and ranchers. Primarily we are reaching out to wheat, oats, barley and rye growers. In addition to small grains growers, NASS is surveying hog producers about their summer pig crop, farrowing intentions for the next six months and current inventory. The information gathered in these surveys is used by livestock producers, grain dealers, policy makers and farmers themselves to make the best business decisions.
With such a widespread impact of these reports, I hope that all farmers and ranchers who receive a survey take time to respond. These responses help NASS ensure timely, accurate and reliable data.