150 years of USDA reports
August 19, 2013
Last month was the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. As the Army of Northern Virginia retreated, managing to take 10,000 wounded in an ambulance train that was 17 miles long, they left behind almost 7,000 wounded to be treated by Union surgeons. Gettysburg became a vast hospital and graveyard. In all, some five thousand Union soldiers and six thousand Confederates were killed or mortally wounded there. Most of them were buried on the battlefield, according to James M. McPherson in his book Gettysburg.
The year 1863 was also the year for a lesser known event. That was the year USDA began collecting and publishing crop and livestock statistics to help farmers assess the value of the goods they produced. At that time, wheat growers on the east coast were unaware of supply in areas outside their own locality and buyers had reports for wider areas. During that era, it was common for commodity buyers to have more current and detailed market information than farmers, which in most cases, prevented farmers from getting a fair price for their goods. Today, 150 years later, producers would be in the same situation were it not for the official USDA reports prepared by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).
According to Carter Anderson, Director of the USDA NASS, statistical information on acreage, production, stocks, prices, and income is essential for the smooth operation of federal farm programs. County level crop yields are used by the Risk Management Agency in administering crop insurance programs. Actual chemical use and production practices help refute over-estimated opinions, and show that agricultural producers use chemicals responsibly to provide a safe, healthy food supply. Reports help stabilize prices by squelching rumors and eliminating market surprises.
The primary sources of information for official USDA reports are those who know the most – farmers and ranchers, livestock feeders, grain elevator operators and other agribusinesses. South Dakota's field office in Sioux Falls has staff available to assist customers with a variety of data requests. South Dakota specific reports are available on their website at http://www.nass.usda.gov/sd/ . Carter Anderson said, "I cannot thank producers and agribusinesses enough for their cooperation when contacted to provide data used for producing official USDA estimates."
The South Dakota Agriculture 2013 Bulletin No. 73 has recently become available. Ask for it at your regional Extension office or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org . For more information, go to http://www.sdcfrm.edu or call 1-800-684-1969.