Statistics Canada numbers lose credibility

It’s hard to find a farmer who likes the acreage and crop production estimates from Statistics Canada. As farmers, we are well-served by accurate, timely estimates. Too bad that isn’t what we’re getting.

With thousands of producers surveyed in each province for each report, it’s likely that your phone is going to ring from time to time. Unfortunately, fibbing to Statistics Canada is almost a matter of pride for many producers.

There’s a general view that the Statistics Canada reports just depress prices and we’d be better off without them. No use showing the buyers your cards in the grain marketing poker game.

If there were no Statistics Canada surveys, do you really think buyers would operate in a vacuum? Large companies would do their own surveying and estimating, but their numbers wouldn’t be public. Farmers would have less information than buyers.

Statistics Canada needs to take several steps to become more relevant and accepted.

Timeliness is of greatest importance.

Farmers were surveyed Sept. 1-9 for the latest production report released Oct. 4. That’s way too much time lag.

A month is an eternity, especially at seeding and harvest. By the time the report is released it’s immediately in question because so many factors may have changed.

It’s also important for Statistics Canada to show more respect for producers.

If you can quote all your seeded acreage, yield information and grain stocks off the top of your head, you’re doing better than I. Give producers time to compile their information and maybe even find little perks to reward them for their effort.

There also needs to be a better job of public relations to explain that the process is a benefit for the entire industry, farmers included. It may be better to have fewer producers surveyed if the information provided is more accurate and complete.

Without better farmer co-operation, the whole effort will become a sham. Just look what happened to the numbers for canaryseed in the last report.

Canaryseed is a relatively minor acreage crop grown almost entirely in Saskatchewan. It’s also a speculative crop that many producers grow and store waiting for price spikes.

In its September estimate of field crop production, Statistics Canada was forced to make major upward revisions to 2010 production levels. Without this, their canaryseed inventory number would have been negative.

Makes you wonder if the carryover stocks estimate got out of kilter due to number fudging by producers.

For 2011, Statistics Canada has canaryseed seeded acreage at just 190,000. The average yield is pegged at 944 pounds per acre for a total production of just 77,100 tonnes. We’ve been producing more than that even in major drought years like 2002.

For Aug. 1, 2011, the Statistics Canada estimate of canaryseed beginning stocks is a mere 39,000 tonnes. Add to this the estimated crop of 77,100 tonnes and you get a total supply of just 116,100 tonnes.

Yearly exports over the past five years have been as low as 152,000 tonnes and as high as 204,000 tonnes. The Mexican market is in question right now because of issues with quarantine weed seeds. Still, if Statistics Canada is even close to being right, canaryseed supply is extremely tight.

Canada dominates the world export market for canaryseed. Our prices should be spiking and farmers should be rejoicing. That hasn’t happened yet. Maybe no one trusts the numbers.

Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at kevin@hursh.ca.

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