Stats Can may stop Sept. survey

Using satellite yield data will hurt farmers, says an analyst.  |  NOAA Illustration

Crop reporting | Fall survey could be axed if satellite-generated yield estimate proves valid

This could be the last September that Canadian growers are surveyed about their crop yields.

Statistics Canada is contemplating replacing its September crop production survey with a mathematical model that uses satellite data to produce production estimates.

This year’s survey will be compared to the satellite-based yield results generated by the Crop Condition Assessment Program (CCAP). If the model proves accurate, a substitution will happen in 2014.

“The plan will be to cancel only the September field crops survey and replace the survey results with modelled results based on the satellite data,” Bill Parsons, chief of Statistics Canada’s Agriculture Commodities Section, said in an email to The Western Producer.

“The remainder of the Field Crops Reporting Series will remain survey based.”

The satellite program has been running for more than 20 years

“We are just now moving into a comfort zone where the modelled data is relatively consistent and comparable to the crop survey yields data,” said Parsons.

Chuck Penner, an analyst with LeftField Commodity Research, isn’t pleased to hear about the potential demise of another marketing tool.

“If they get rid of this, it’s just one more way in which the transparency in the market is disappearing,” he said. “It’s just pathetic.”

Penner said the satellite model might be good at predicting spring wheat and canola yields, but he wonders how accurate it will be when it comes to minor crops like flax and mustard.

Government budget cuts are really starting to affect the ability of farmers to market their grain, he said.

For instance, last year growers lost access to a list of vessel lineups when the Canadian Ports Clearance Association ceased operations. Weekly reports from the Canadian Grain Commission have been rendered useless due to missing export and terminal data, he said.

“A number of people who provide services to farmers and to the trade can’t do their work as well because of these cuts, so farmers are suffering. We’re in an open market but an open market we can’t see,” said Penner. “It’s completely blind, especially for farmers, so they should be protesting, frankly.”

The September survey of about 11,700 farmers has been conducted since 1986. It provides the grain trade with the first government-based, harvest estimate of crop production.

Parsons said if Statistics Canada can use the satellite yield data, it will not have to bother farmers during a busy time of the year and it will generate annual savings of approximately $50,000 to $75,000.

Penner scoffed at the notion.

“How very considerate of them, but they’ll bother them the rest of the year,” he said.

He believes the real motivation is the money but there is another cost that the government isn’t considering.

“The cost to the industry is how much? The cost to farmers about getting inaccurate information could be in the millions, many millions,” said Penner.

There have been no yield estimates from the Crop Condition Assessment Program this year. In past years they were published throughout August.

“We are holding the data back to avoid public confusion of having multiple sources of Statistics Canada crop yield estimates,” said Parsons.

The only existing estimate is contained in the agency’s July 2013 production report, which was released on Aug. 21.

Parsons said Statistics Canada will be making its decision on the September survey before the end of its fiscal year in March, 2014.

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