Friday, April 10, 2009


I don't have the time to schlep all the way to Delphi for definitive augury of the future so I've decided to give up on tomorrow.  I'm going to predict the present.  And I'm not alone.  [Note: Wait for it...]

Even predicting the present is useful, since it may help identify "turning points" in economic time series. If people start doing significantly more searches for "Real Estate Agents" in a certain location, it is tempting to think that house sales might increase in that area in the near future.

Our paper outlines one approach to short-term economic prediction, but we expect that there are several other interesting ideas out there. So we suggest that forecasting wannabes download some Google Trends data and try to relate it to other economic time series. If you find an interesting pattern, post your findings on a website and send a link to We'll report on the most interesting results in a later blog post.

It has been said that if you put a million monkeys in front of a million computers, you would eventually produce an accurate economic forecast. Let's see how well that theory works ... [More]

As long as agriculture continues to tolerate sloppy, untimely data reporting of our industry by the USDA, we should hardly be surprised our own predictions are not the best they could be.  I suspect we might be more productive mining data to predict the present, as illustrated above.

I think we can gain enormous competitive advantage simply by knowing what is happening right now.


Anonymous said...

Well John,
you bring up these reports with some regularity so they must mean something to you. The trouble with the reports may be that they ask farmers like me for information. I'm a grass seed farmer and most year answer no, no and no to corn, beans and wheat. But I do answer so they keep calling me. Some farmers pride themselves on lying to the info taker. I wish they cared about my crops but . . .
How would you have them do the survey? Timeliness? They will call back three times if I'm not available for the first two. \Well, I don't suppose your holding your breath for change, even in this administration.
by George

John Phipps said...


I outline my complaints with NASS in the linked article written a few years ago. My basic complaint is unlike FSA who get better and faster each year, NASS works to contract and is generating the same report with the same speed and arguable less accuracy as they did 40 years ago.

By now, crop reports should be weekly and overnight.

The census of ag should be annual and done in a week.

And I'll bet real money there are information firms out there that could do both for about 10% what it costs the USDA.

Anonymous said...

Have you all watched "Trading Places"? Funny movie! But could have a kernal of truth!