In the past few weeks there have been a lot of questions in farm country about how USDA National Ag Statistics Service (NASS) gathers the data presented in their weekly Crop Progress Report. Part of the confusion is because unlike most of their work, this particular NASS report is not based on farmer surveys. Lance Honig, crops chief at USDA-NASS, explained the process to AgriTalk host Chip Flory last week.
“This is something we do a little bit differently at NASS than most of the work that we do, because for progress and condition, we're not getting that information directly from farmers,” he said. “We're getting [this data] from folks like County Extension agents, there's some FSA employees out there, things of that nature.”
For the weekly Crop Progress Report, county Extension agents and FSA employees provide the data based on what they’re seeing in their county and hearing from the farmers they work with. He says the goal is to get a report from every county in the U.S. Does that happen each week? No, but according to Honig NASS has great coverage across the country.
“On average, we're going to get well over 2,000 [reports], so really good coverage across the country,” he said. “Obviously, not every county is relevant for every crop anyway. So we really look at coverage a lot more than we do even counts, and we get really high coverage by commodity in most cases.”
These volunteers provide their reports via a web portal on Monday mornings.
“They're going to be basing their reports on a couple of different things. One is on what they see and two on what they hear,” he explained. “In some cases, they're getting out and about and they're seeing a lot across the county. And in addition to that, they're in contact with a lot of producers across their county. So, they're going to use both of those things–both what they see themselves, and then also what they hear from the farmers that they're in contact with.”
According to Honig, being in contact with producers is particularly important in a year like 2019.
“Especially when you're talking about planting progress, in a year like this, you really need to know what farmers are doing and how their intentions are changing week to week,” he said. “That's what these folks are good at doing.”
USDA releases their weekly Crop Progress report on Mondays at 3 p.m. central.