How to Read the FSA Acreage Dump

Wednesday (September 16, 2015) the Farm Service Agency released a new set of numbers. While these are preliminary figures of acreage and crops, they do offer a hint of things to come in future official USDA estimates.

First, it is really important to understand these numbers are raw and come with no explanation. They are simply a monthly dump of the aggregated acreage figures reported to the FSA by those participating in federal farm programs. Participation requires them to report the number of planted, failed, and prevented plant acres of each program crop. These numbers are updated by FSA from August to January. University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Darrel Good explains how the raw numbers make their way into the official USDA reports.

Quote Summary - NASS, the official estimator of major crops, basis their estimates on surveys of producers with the final estimated based on a very large agricultural survey in December, but they do use what they call administrative data, primarily this FSA data, to tweak their own estimates of planted acres. This is because theirs is based on a sample. They are not doing a census of acreage. Historically there has been a close relationship between the acreage reported to FSA an actual planted acres as reported by NASS. They use those numbers and so by definition they tend to come together at the end of the season.

Remember that’s not until January. So, it makes reading too much into the latest FSA numbers difficult, but it does offer what Darrel Good calls ‘hints’ as to what changes might be coming. USDA NASS will incorporate the FSA figures into the October 9 Crop Production report. However, that will be from an updated set of FSA figures that the public won’t actually see until October 14.

Quote Summary - At this juncture, I think there is a tendency to try and read too much into what the FSA reports are saying in terms of trying to anticipate how NASS is going to change final acreage. Having said that, we do see through September of this year that the difference between the estimated of planted areas by NASS (for soybean) and certified acres reported to FSA so far is a quite large margin. Whether it narrows considerably in October or not is the question. If it doesn’t then there is may be a bit of a clue there that NASS will have to lower its estimated of planted acres of soybeans this year. But again that is just a clue you are trying to read out of the data and we’ll see in October whether that happens or not.

Typically the FSA acreage for soybeans is 1.5 to 2 million acres lower than USDA’s final number. The current FSA figures are off by 4.6 million acres. The October 9 Crop Production report could change, but we won’t know exactly why or if it needs to change more until the FSA report is released five days later.