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Crop data: Free today, paid tomorrow?

Jeff Caldwell 10/04/2013 @ 10:57am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

A general lack of USDA data has many short-term implications: Markets don't have weekly export sales reports, crop progress reports, or monthly data on grain supplies at home and abroad -- all numbers critical to the construction of today's grain market prices.

But what about further down the road? A longer term absence of federal crop data (numbers that private crop forecasting and analytics firms use alongside their own data and analysis) could change the general availability of such data. In other words, what's free now may not be for long.

"The likely downsides of a sharp reduction in USDA grain market information over time would be that what is now a 'public good' available to all regardless of economic means, e.g., access to grain market information from the USDA, would very likely become to a significant degree a for-fee enterprise that not all U.S. grain producers would likely be able to pay for and therefore have access to," says Kansas State University Extension ag economist Daniel O'Brien. "The vacuum in local market information would likely eventually be filled by private means should the USDA’s grain market information function be done away with or sharply curtailed. However, the key question is the degree to which the public good, which is now USDA grain market information, would be adequately replaced and provided for medium to small agricultural producers here in the U.S. and abroad."

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Adds MDA Weather Services senior ag meteorologist Don Keeney, who relies on some USDA data in the weather information products he creates: "The cessation of by the USDA would certainly be a boon for many private forecasting services, but I’m sure there would be a big negative reaction among many producers."

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