Will USDA Find #Tipback17 in Time for August WASDE report? Don’t Bet on It

Will USDA Find #Tipback17 in Time for August WASDE report? Don’t Bet on It

August 8, 2017

If you’re like me (and other FarmLead users across the Midwest), you are finding a surprising amount of kernel tip back in some fields.

The chatter I’m hearing and wondering myself on forums like Twitter is “Will the USDA account for the conditions?”

On Thursday, we’ll turn our attention to the monthly Crop Production Report. The National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) will publish the report at 11:00 CST.

Breaking Down the Report

In corn country, this will be the first meaningful monthly crop production reports.

Why: It’s the first report based on actual survey results.

Two surveys, in fact.

The first is the monthly Agricultural Yield Survey (AYS). This report surveys 25,000 producers in about 30 states, mostly by telephone. The survey draws respondents from the pool of farmers who responded to the June acreage survey. These same farmers are later called and surveyed for subsequent monthly reports through the final report in January.

If you have participated in this survey, you know it’s a simple one: how many acres of corn? What do you expect them to yield?

That’s it.

The state by-state and US yields resulting from the AYS are simple averages of all those who responded to the survey.

The second major input is known as the Objective Yield Survey (OYS). Some observers (read that detractors) note the degree of subjectivity in this survey. More in a moment on the difference and why it matters.

First, the goal of the OYS: create yield forecasts based on actual plant counts and measurements. Simple enough—but the road to the result can be winding.

The number of sample corn fields is nearly 2,000. The fields are randomly selected from those reported as planted to corn in the June acreage survey. It gets tricky in that the crop isn’t always mature enough to measure some data points and instead historical data and expert opinion must be substituted.

For instance, the surveyors measure row width (easily done), count stalks (1, 2, 3), count ears per stalk (shouldn’t this almost always, always be 1 or 0?) and count the number of ears with kernels (ears without kernels don’t yield much).

Where it gets subjective is in the measurement of:

  • the kernel row length and ear diameter (in August, ears often aren’t mature enough for analysis);
  • the ear weight (vastly different between dough and black-layer);
  • the weight of shelled grain (what’s the mature weight of 40% moisture corn?); and,
  • moisture content (bite the kernel…yep, about 25%).

And the OYS?

The OYS forecasts corn yields based on measurements like the number of ears, the weight per ear, and harvest loss.

If maturity doesn’t allow, as is typical in most situations in August, the study will use “forecasted” ear weight.

What Else?

The results of the two surveys are the major inputs to forecasting the state-by-state and national yields that will be published in the report. But there’s more.

Experts will gather in D.C. before the report is published and tweak the survey numbers through analysis of trends like growing season weather-to-date, planting dates, satellite imagery, and other analysis.

Interestingly, those Weekly Crop Condition Reports we’ve all been following each Monday afternoon for the past few months are barely used as factors in the monthly crop production reports.

I learned long ago that “the USDA numbers are whatever they are; they are the numbers we’ll trade.”

True, forecasting yields is a tough business.

There are many unknowns like what the weather from now through the end of the season will be. What about frost? Disease?

If I were among those farmers surveyed—I was not—I’d have answered with very different yield guesses last week versus the much lower expectations I now have following my weekend tour in my corn fields.

The hashtag #tipback17 is trending on social media platforms with good reason.

But farmer surveys for the August report were completed last Friday so my response to NASS wouldn’t have reflected the not-so-rosy picture I now see. For that and other reasons…it’s likely not to be fully reflected by USDA for at least another month and perhaps until the combines roll.

Update: The USDA released the not-so-important crop conditions ratings at 3:00 CST yesterday afternoon. Both corn and soybeans are rated at 60 percent good-to-excellent. Corn fell by one percentage point from last week while soybeans improved by one point.

About the Author
Doug Kirk

Doug Kirk is a Central Illinois Farmer, a FarmLead PowerUser, and grain market enthusiast. He welcomes your feedback and conversation. Reach him in the FarmLead Chicago office at 312-459-6149, via email at d.kirk@farmlead.com, or on Twitter at @iplow1.

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