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Looking Ahead to the 2020 Crop Season, What to Expect from NASS Numbers

Posted by Hubert Hamer, Administrator, USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service in Research and Science
Feb 26, 2020
Corn planting in Burleson County near Caldwell, Texas
Corn planting in Burleson County near Caldwell, Texas. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Blair Fannin)

With the 2020 growing season about to begin for major field crops such as corn and soybeans, we’d like to walk through the surveys and data used during a complete season of field crop estimation. As a way to help you prepare for the 2020 data releases, we’ll explain in a series of articles the sources of data NASS incorporates into estimates as well as the timing and intention of the data as a way to let you know what to expect and how the data can be useful in your work.

For corn and soybeans, the greatest points of interest in the growing season begin with the March Agricultural Survey for which farmers and ranchers report what they intend to plant. This survey results in the estimates of acres expected to be planted contained in the Prospective Plantings report. Next is the June Agricultural Survey which results in the Acreage report. This report provides estimates of acres already planted and still intended to be planted.

The Agricultural Yield survey collects farmer-reported expected crop yields each month. Trained enumerators gather field samples monthly for the Objective Yield survey to measure yield. NASS uses the information from both of these surveys along with satellite-derived yields to forecast production levels in the monthly Crop Production reports. The highly anticipated August report is USDA’s first survey-based look at row crop yield estimates. NASS collects final production data for the row crop growing season in December after the majority of the crop is harvested and publishes the results in the January Crop Production Annual Summary. Data for small grains such as winter wheat are obtained in December, March, and June, to determine acreage, and in September to determine final production.

Let’s look closely at the annual March Agricultural Survey which is now underway. More than 82,000 farmers and ranchers received surveys. We rely almost entirely on surveys in March because we are asking about planting intentions. Decades of historical crop acreage data are also considered. FSA certified acres aren’t yet available and the usefulness of geospatial data for crop estimates is limited since crops are not yet planted. NASS also utilizes data collected about on- and off-farm grains stored for the Grain Stocks report that is released on the same day. Looking at the results from last year, March 2019 stocks were down 3 percent for corn and up 29 percent for soybeans from the same time in 2018.

In March 2019, even with very challenging conditions in many parts of the country and trade uncertainty, farmers and ranchers reported they intended to plant an estimated 92.8 million acres of corn, up 829,000 acres from the previous year and 84.6 million acres of soybeans, down 13.1 million acres from 2018. The June Acreage report reflected changed conditions with 91.7 million acres of corn and 80.0 million acres of soybeans planted and still expected to be planted. In our next article, we’ll look at how the June numbers are compiled.

Meanwhile, we continue to ask farmers and ranchers to fill out their NASS surveys. The estimates resulting from these data, which are an unbiased service available to everyone free of charge at key decision-making times in the season, help farmers and ranchers, agribusiness, market participants, researchers, USDA and many others in their work.

Follow @USDA_NASS on Twitter for more information about NASS surveys and data as we move through 2020 as well as for our monthly #StatChat series.

Category/Topic: Research and Science