Insights into USDA reports
October 13, 2022
By Tony Dahlman, USDA-NASS agricultural statistician
*Editor’s note: Tony Dahlman is currently employed as an Agricultural Statistician for the USDA – National Agricultural Statistics Service (USDA-NASS) where he works for the Upper Midwest Regional Field Office in Des Moines. The regional field office is one of 12 in the U.S., covering Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Tony has worked for USDA-NASS for 16 years, including a seven-year period in headquarters in Washington, D.C. where his last assignment was the National Soybean Statistician, helping to set all the official soybean estimates for USDA-NASS. Given his wide range of expertise, we asked Tony for his insights on what it takes to pull the reports together.
Reports from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) are widely anticipated by all stakeholders in agriculture because they provide new and updated information to the market. Sometimes this information can be outside of expectations leading to price changes (higher or lower) in commodities.
There were two major reports that were released by the USDA on Wednesday, the Crop Production report and the World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report.
Differences between the reports
The Crop Production report covers the acreage and production in the United States and is released by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (USDA-NASS). The report is released every month around the 12th of the month, but the four forecasts for soybeans are released in the August, September, October, and November reports. As the third of the four forecasts, the October Crop Production receives more attention because the harvest of soybeans is generally underway in the Upper Midwest by the October 1 reference date.
The WASDE report covers supply and demand estimates for commodities worldwide is released by the World Agricultural Outlook Board (WOAB), which is a part of the USDA’s Office of the Chief Economist. The report is released concurrently with the Crop Production report. The newly released U.S. production estimates from the USDA-NASS Crop Production report are incorporated into the WASDE.
The October WASDE is widely anticipated by agricultural stakeholders because along with updated U.S. forecasts, the updated balance sheets also consider the updated end-of-season grain stocks estimates that were released on September 30 in the USDA-NASS Grain Stocks report.
Sources of Data for the Crop Production Report
USDA-NASS incorporates four major sources of data to set the estimates for soybean production in the October Crop Production report.
Ag Yield survey
The Ag Yield survey generates producer-reported data on their expected yield for their soybean crop in the 2022 crop year. In October, the survey sample size is around 9,000 producers in the United States, including 250 in Iowa.
Objective Yield survey
The Objective Yield survey is the result of NASS-trained enumerators taking measurements in randomly selected soybean fields in the major 11 soybean producing states. The measurements taken are dependent on the maturity of the crop, but most samples during the October data collection period are the number of soybean plants and the number of pods with beans in two different units of every field. Soybean fields that are mature and will be harvested in the next three days will have pods collected and weighed in a lab. The sample size is 1,530 soybean fields in the United States, including 200 fields in Iowa.
Remote Sensing indications
USDA-NASS has spent several years in researching the use of satellite data to provide indications for acreage and yield for crops. The agency has access to Time Series 250 Meter Satellite data that detects a vegetative index which can be used for crop identification and health. While data from farmer reported surveys and enumerator crop measurements are given most of the weight when setting yield estimates, satellite imagery is also considered and factored in.
Farm Service Agency (USDA-FSA) Certified Acreage
USDA-FSA policy requires that producers participating in several programs submit an annual report regarding all cropland use on their farms. By this time in the fall the certified acreage totals are sufficiently complete for USDA-NASS to consider adjustments in planted acreage. During the 2022 September Crop Production report, USDA-NASS estimated Iowa harvested soybean acreage at 10 million acres. This forecast was 200,000 acres less than the estimate in the June 30 Acreage report due to the review of USDA-FSA certified acreage data. There were no revisions to harvested soybean acreage in the October Crop Production report.
The October Crop Production report and WASDE report were assembled in “lockup” conditions to maintain data security and ensure everyone gets the report results at the same time. After survey results were compiled and analyzed on the state level, the state recommendations for the speculative commodities of corn, soybeans, and cotton were securely sent to the USDA-NASS headquarters in Washington, D.C. Prior to the decryption of these recommendations, the Crops Branch of USDA-NASS is secured to lockup security settings. All outside connections via internet and telephone are cut off. All lockup participants leave their cell phones in lockers outside of the lockup area. The window shades are wired shut to avoid any communication with people outside. Everyone who enters the lockup area is not allowed to leave until the release of the report at 12 p.m. Eastern.
During the several hours prior to the release of the report, members of the Agricultural Statistics Board which include headquarters statisticians and representatives from regional field offices analyze the sources of data outlined above and finalize estimates. Just prior to the release, a representative from the office of the Secretary of Agriculture is given a briefing of the report by the USDA-NASS Crops Branch Chief and a briefing of the WASDE is given by the chair of the World Agricultural Outlook Board. The Crop Production report is released at exactly noon Eastern on the USDA-NASS website.