Behind the Scenes: How USDA Creates Wheat Crop Forecasts

USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service National Wheat Statistician James Johanson attended the recent winter wheat tour. Johanson explains how USDA uses data to create forecasts for the nation’s wheat crop.

“Well, in the USDA headquarters, we gathered the information and reports from all our different states across the country and put it all together and summarize it and publish that. Our first forecast for winter wheat yield went out Friday, May 12.” 

Given the 2023 crop facing variable drought conditions, that means more variability in the data.

“Well, each month that we do a forecast, our reference date is the first of the month, so when we do our surveys, we’re asking the farmers, this day, what do you expect your yield to be at the end of the season? And assuming from that point, normal, that’s how we handle the dryness, you know, or the drought conditions and so forth.” 

He says they use other technologies to determine forecasts as well.

“But we do also have our Objective Yield Survey, and we have  numerators that we trained to go into fields and do some measurements. And so then obviously, that would be an objective measurement of what the yields might potentially be. We do have some satellite data and we utilize that primarily in wheat, we use more for planted acres. Unfortunately, our research has struggled to get very accurate wheat yields from that satellite data.”