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USDA crop report buzz at fever pitch

Agriculture.com Staff 03/28/2007 @ 10:16am

Whether you pick up the Wall Street Journal, read CNN's business section, or listen to a local radio station, you're bound to be alerted to this Friday's USDA Planting Intentions report.

The buzz about how much corn and soybeans will be produced in the U.S. this year is at a fever pitch.

Producers and investors worldwide have their eyes on the USDA. For example, Brazil's soy growers await the fate of their new-crop prices, based on this week's data.

If all eyes are on the USDA crop estimates, what must the estimators be thinking?

Joe Prusacki, Director USDA/National Agricultural Statistics Service, Iowa Field Office, former Branch Chief for Field Crops in Washington, D.C., told Agriculture Online to keep in mind that statisticians not economists are setting the estimate.

"Statisticians say this is what the data says," Prusacki said. "Economists say this is what the data means and making these assumptions, this is what we can say about the data."

Prusacki added, "So, the biggest thing for the estimators is to not get caught up in the buzz. We have to stick with what the survey says."

The March Agricultural Survey, also known as the Crops/Stocks Survey, influences the report.

Data is collected from February 27th to March 1. USDA contacted over 87,000 producers by mail, telephone, or by personal interview and asked them to provide information on the crop acreage they intend to plant for the 2007 crop year, including planned corn and soybean acreage.

So, with the numbers crunched, what does the USDA think about as they get set to release the numbers Friday?

Whatever the number is, they (estimate setters) have to be wondering where are these corn acres going to come from, Prusacki said. "There is only so much land out there. In Washington, they are looking at the land balance sheet asking how much land is available in the U.S. They are taking that figure and subtracting the acres going into pasture, principal crops. They are asking, what is the mix?"

Over the last five years, with more of it being developed for urban uses, land being used for crops is declining, Prusacki said. Also, various environmental programs have used up other land.

The other reminder that USDA representatives favor is the report on farmers' intentions.

"Sure, a lot of producers have their seed and fertilizer lined-up, but we haven't dropped a planter in the ground in Iowa. So, a lot of things can happen between now and the acreage report in June."

Meanwhile, for those people who believe the report data is leaked before its scheduled release, Prusacki said a rock-solid procedure is in place to avoid that from happening.

"The Secretary of Agriculture and the USDA's Chief Economist don't see the data until fifteen minutes ahead of the report being released. They are asked to sign the report before seeing the data. Their signature says they are confident the data collectors have done their job," he said.

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