I just finished reading in my Wall Street Journal that the U.S. government reported 25% higher stockpiles of corn Friday than it estimated three weeks ago. (WSJ Business & Finance dated Saturday/Sunday, October 1-2, 2011). That new estimate dope-slapped corn, wheat and soybean prices on the stock market, but it may give Jill Consumer (i.e, you and me) a break at our local Piggly Wiggly, or wherever the heck you shop.
It turns out that there are two government agencies that produce these estimates, one being the USDA’s statistical arm called the National Agricultural Statistics Services (NASS), which issued Friday’s report, and the other being the World Agricultural Outlook Board (WAOB),responsible for the first report. NASS attempts to contact approximately 9,000 commercial storage facilities for their figures while WAOB bases its estimate on how much corn it thinks will be used as animal feed or exported and some other unnamed variables.
First, why do we have two government agencies estimating the same number? Redundancy in telecommunications and personal toilet paper supply (that roll you have tucked away in case of nuclear attack) is a good idea, but more than one federal government agency laboring away to produce the same result? — not so much.
Second, NASS attempts to contact 9,000 storage facilities, which include grain elevators and ethanol plants that store corn on site. Just how is that contact made? Are they phoning the receptionist at the ethanol plant? “Hey, missy, how many kernels ya got layin’ around there? Just look out the window and give me a rough estimate. How the kids doing? How’s the weather there? 800,000 bushels, you said? Thanks, say hi to Farmer Greenjeans for me. Bye now!”
Knocking on grain elevator doors? “Hello, anybody in there? No? Okay, I’ll just bang on the side of the silo like it’s a propane tank and get a rough estimate. That should do. Gotta get back to D.C. before traffic picks up around 2:30; otherwise I won’t be home in time for dinner. We’re having corn fritters.” And what’s WAOB doing? “This little piggy went to market, so it won’t eat any corn today. That’s one bushel we can stockpile.” Do they even know there’s a drought in Texas and all the animals that should be eating corn there are already dead? Maybe it’s an even BIGGER surplus! I’m betting they also forgot to look behind Door No. 3 when the earlier report was issued — “Hey! Look what I found! There’s another 500,000 bushels of corn in here! Somebody turn on the light so I can see if there’s any more!” WTF???
Third, this is not the first time the issuance of significantly different forecasts has happened. The article states, “The new data shocked farmers, traders and analysts, who have frequently been caught offguard by USDA reports in recent years.” If that’s the case, why were they surprised this time? And “frequently”? What in harvest’s name is going on at the USDA? Has anybody thought about fixing this system? Maybe there’s some truth to the oft-stated warning that America is behind in its mathematical abilities. Evidently those kids are all going to work at the USDA.
Is the government issuing these conflicting reports to purposely stir the stock market pot? Have they not noticed the contents of that same pot are already spurting from of a hundred separate leaks? How many other bogus economic reports are being fed to us? And I should pay more taxes so I can get inaccurate figures? Pffft. Give me a dart. I can get a closer estimate to stockpiles, national debt, and probably the happiness index with that than these bozos can get with their advanced university degrees, expense accounts, and Brooks Brothers suits can.
The one thing that gives me a bit of smug comfort is the fact that some farmers have the cell phone number for the head of NASS, and they called him because they were unhappy prices were dropping. Awe, too bad. I hear crickets rubbing their legs together like tiny bows on violin strings, playing a wee dirge for Mr. NASS Head. I hope he goes over his cell phone minute allowance, and has to pay extra on the bill. Oh, wait, I’m the taxpayer — I’ll have to pay for the overage. Hang up, NASS. Now.