Numbers junkies were thrown for a loop this morning when USDA erroneously published the last year's Farm Services Agency acreage data instead of this year's data.
Historically, FSA's prevent plant acreage estimates grow from month to month as they receive updated information from farmers. The market, and Twitter, reacted when the numbers unexpectedly showed a decline in corn prevent planted acres.
But when the dust settled and FSA released the correct data set shortly after 9 a.m. CT, the numbers conformed to historical trends. Prevent plant corn acres inched up slightly to 2.35 million from 2.30 last month. Soybean prevented planting acres grew to 2.22 ma from last month's 2.17 ma.
The confusion, and irritation, over this morning's debacle is just a new chapter in the conversation about how this particular release fits into the bigger picture of acreage estimates. It's important to remember that FSA used to only release this information when the data was final at the end of the year. The agency switched to a monthly release in 2011.
USDA's National Ag Statistics Service (NASS) incorporates FSA's acreage data into its corn and soybean estimates in the October Crop Production because that's when it feels FSA's numbers have reached a level of statistical reliability.
However, the two agencies operate on different definitions, so FSA's numbers don't directly translate to changes into NASS's acreage estimates. Lance Honig, who leads NASS's crop statistics branch, explained in a memo (that you can find here: http://1.usa.gov/…) how the categories differ.
"The FSA categories 'acres planted' and 'acres failed' represent acres actually planted to each specific crop, and combined are comparable to the NASS planted acreage definition. The FSA category 'acres failed' also serves as a minimum level of abandonment and is useful to NASS in establishing harvested acreage estimates. The FSA category 'acres prevented planted' is helpful in understanding current conditions, but does not directly correspond to any NASS acreage estimates."
It's important to not read too much into these numbers. At best, they lend numbers to conversations about this spring's planting challenges and can help gauge trends. At worst, I've seen them over used to try to make an overly bullish or bearish argument about how "off" NASS's acreage numbers.
The bottom line: Don't read too much into these numbers, especially with the Grain Stocks report and updated Crop Production estimates coming our way soon.
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