Seeding intentions report in limbo

Last week’s March Prospective Plantings report in the United States raised some eyebrows.

It is uncertain whether Statistics Canada’s Principal Field Crop Areas report scheduled for release on April 24 will generate the same response.

That is because there may not be a report on that date due to COVID-19 related challenges.

“No final decision has been made,” Augustine Akuoko-Asibey, acting director of Statistics Canada’s agriculture division, said in an email.

The security of Canada’s food supply has emerged as an essential issue during the COVID crisis.

“Information on the agricultural sector is critical to inform decision-making related to food security,” said the acting director.

Statistics Canada has been engaging with Agriculture Canada and the provinces and territories to ensure important agricultural data continues to be made available.

However, the agency said it is also “avoiding the imposition of burden on farmers with respect to direct data collection.”

The Principal Field Crop Areas report involves direct data collection, so it is unclear whether the report will see the light of day.

Some feel there would be a big information void if the industry didn’t know in a timely manner what farmers intend to seed this spring.

However, at least one grain market analyst is shrugging off the possible dearth of government data.

Neil Townsend, chief market analyst with FarmLink Marketing Solutions, said the entire industry has become less reliant on Statistics Canada’s reports.

“Clearly, they don’t have the resources that they maybe had at one point to do an effective job,” he said.

Grain markets tend to have a blasé attitude about Statistics Canada reports.

“Even if the numbers are surprising they don’t react, they don’t move, which shows me that nobody is listening, nobody cares,” said Townsend.

Akuoko-Asibey was asked to respond to that comment but did not reply in time to meet The Western Producer’s publication deadline.

Cargill market analyst Dave Reimann said nobody else is capable of running a survey the size of Statistics Canada’s seeding intentions report.

“I still respect the numbers in that regard,” he said.

If the intentions report is not published the trade will have to rely on its own estimates until the June actual seeded acres report is published, if it is published.

Townsend said the lack of faith in public data means grain companies are having to generate their own market intel these days.

“I know two of the big companies here in Winnipeg have just hired expensive people to come in and do that,” he said.

“They wouldn’t be doing that if they thought there was a number that everybody in the industry really believed in.”

However, the grain companies don’t share that information with farmers and even if they did Townsend would be skeptical about taking it at face value.

“Do not take market advice from line companies. They don’t have your interest in mind. They don’t,” he said.

Reimann has heard that same line from a lot of independent market advice firms but he disagrees with the notion.

“We still pride ourselves on giving independent advice and at times even advise our customers to haul grain to other companies if the situation is right,” he said.

And there are certain advantages grain companies can provide to their customers.

“We can actually buy your grain and attach contracts to it like minimum pricing strategies, which otherwise you’d need a broker,” said Reimann.

Townsend said the lack of transparency in the grain sector has given rise to companies like FarmLink. His company derives its own acreage and yield estimates from surveying 800 farmer customers.

He said it is counter-intuitive that in the age of big data there is precious little reliable public data to draw upon.

“It’s 2020. This isn’t 1980. Shouldn’t we have better information?” he said.

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