Dwindling data collection hurts growers

Domestic grain flows are becoming harder to track and analyze.

This is partly the result of changes to reporting requirements and processes in the federal Grains Act and the loss of CWB as a markets, shipping and sales reporter.

As well, the recent American congressional finance squabble kept the U.S. Department of Agriculture from delivering its monthly crop and livestock production and world agricultural supply and demand estimates on time or at all this month.

It shone a bright light on governments’ roles in the market’s ability to accurately account for and analyze the agricultural sector. Analysts began stumbling or at least overstating the obvious, and commodity markets went flat in just a couple of weeks.

The objectivity of government-supplied data is critical to all players: farmers, merchandisers, cattle feeders, packers, processors, traders and shippers, and of course, the media.

Typically, it is available to everyone, for free, which levels the price-discovery playing field and allows for the educated guesses we all make about the future of prices and for the resulting cropping signals sent to producers.

Relying on processors and buyers to provide data is OK for a while in the absence of reliable, comprehensive data. However, they would quickly figure out where their bread is buttered, and the data they supply would either dry up or reflect their interests rather than reality.

WP Markets Editor D’Arce McMillan sums up this month’s data shortage by suggesting that a few pundits and analysts look pretty smart in the short term, but as the absence of reporting drags on, accuracy and confidence begins to rapidly slip.

As media, we strive to provide objective information, selecting the valuable kernels of truth from the chaff and screenings of irrelevant noise and ideological hyperbole. The more high quality data we have to harvest, the better the fodder we deliver to our readers, and the more informed they are in their farms’ decisions.

Data is challenging and sometimes expensive to collect, but it’s a job governments do well. Inaccurate information will cost producers a lot more in the not-so-long run.

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