The team of ag journalists that works for me in 9 states across the Midwest spends a great deal of time talking with farmers, agronomists and economists on the ground in those states. The drought that plagues the Heartland is central to the daily coverage of agricultural news in each of the states in our radio network geography. I see it every day in my own life. Pastures burned to a crisp. Corn that didn’t pollinate. Thirsty earth.
When USDA’s July Crop Production and Supply & Demand Reports came out July 11, the month to month cut in production and average yield caught a lot of traders, analysts, market watchers, and market participants by surprise, with some even calling the declines “unprecedented”. In past years, significant declines in estimates have typically come in August and September, not in July.
Do these people caught by surprise live under rocks? America’s Corn Belt is getting hammered and these people are surprised by a significant decline to a 12.970 billion bushel corn crop?
When I heard the report, I was surprised as well. I was surprised the number was that high. Hearing that number resonated with me the many calls, letters, emails and face-to-face conversations I’ve had with farmers over the years who believe USDA reports are not representative of what is really going on out in the country.
The latest round of production numbers from the USDA were, essentially, a wild guess, not based on surveys or even anecdotal evidence but on what impact the Ag Department thinks the weather’s had on this year’s crops. Since widespread surveying is still a ways off, we have to go on anecdotal evidence, and if that’s the case, then the USDA’s most recent estimate of a 12.970 billion bushel corn crop is still overstated, and would probably happen only if the weather switched to an ideal growing pattern. Even under those circumstances, I’m not convinced a crop that size is there.
With a number of forecast models showing temperatures for most of the Cornbelt at the high side of the normal range with only spotty rainfall over the next couple of weeks, an ideal weather pattern doesn’t seem to be the way we’re headed. When USDA released those numbers, more than 50% of the crop was silking, and that’s only being sped up by the weather. Since June, most major U.S. growing areas have seen a substantial lack of moisture, along with hot days and warm nights, so crop size and yield estimates could fall a lot further than they already have and may drop faster than the USDA can keep up with.
It was during a conference call on July 11 that Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said the drought and weather conditions have significantly impacted producers around the country. He then announced improvements to the disaster designation process that is designed to deliver faster, more flexible assistance to farmers and ranchers devastated by natural disasters. “Any county that has been in a Drought Monitor D2 Condition for 8 consecutive weeks or in D3 condition at any time during the growing season will be automatically qualified under a Secretarial Designation,” he said.
According the US Drought Monitor, 1,016 counties were in line to receive designations on July 11 – the largest single designation in their history.
Hey, USDA, you might want to take a look at your USDA US Drought Monitor when compiling and releasing crop numbers that impact the livelihoods of farmers and ranchers.
I read this column to my husband before submitting it. He told me I’d probably “get my nose bloodied.” I told him those who want to “bloody my nose” over this commentary will have to stand in line.