Calm Down, Calm Down

31/03/12 -- After yesterday afternoon's excitement I think that a quiet, calm, sober look at the acreage numbers might be a good idea. The Prime Minister, bless him, probably today thinks that it's a good idea for us all to empty our jerry cans of petrol down the drain and refill them with soybeans, corn and wheat. How close to reality are these estimates likely to be?

I don't know about you, but at times like this I always ask myself "what would R. Kelly do?" That's Robert Sylvester Kelly (born January 8, 1967), the American singer-songwriter and record producer better known by his stage name R. Kelly, not to be confused with me sister, Our Kelly. There's no point asking her about the grain market is there? She works on the wet fish counter in Asda. Stinks she does. Smelly Kelly the kids call her, and that's just the nice ones.

No I'll tell you what a sensible lad like R. Kelly would do, he'd turn back the hands of time, that's what he'd do (the jury is still out on whether he can fly by the way, but more of that later).

R. Kelly says that twelve months ago the USDA pegged all wheat plantings at 58 million, corn plantings at 92.2 million and soybean plantings at 76.6 million. In the end what we got was 54.4 million for wheat, 91.9 million for corn and only 75 million for soybeans.

So as it turns out they were pretty wide of the mark on beans and wheat, but fairly close to the bullseye on corn. Much of the reason behind that being the very soggy conditions that were around in the spring that persisted through until the early summer resulting in many "prevent plant" insurance claims.

What was the situation in 2010? The March 2010 planting intentions report gave us 53.8 million all wheat acres (the final USDA figure proved to be 53.6 million so they were pretty close with that); corn was estimated at 88.8 million (88.2 million in the end); soybeans 78 million (subsequently 77.4 million). So, they weren't too bad a guess back in 2010, although it is noted that they were above the final planted figure on all three, just as they were again in 2011. Let's hope that that isn't a trend.

Can R. Kelly turn the hands of time even further back? Let's see, go on son....

...Yes he can! In 2009 they gave us all wheat 58.6 million (in the end this proved to be 59.1 million); corn 85 million (86.5 million) and soybeans 76 million (77.5 million).

Hang on, look at this boy go, she's still not his so he's turning them back even further...In Mar 2008 the all wheat area was estimated at 63.8 million (which finally became 63.1 million); corn 86 million - spot on, finally, get these boys a virtual coconut and a goldfish in a plastic bag; soybeans 74.8 million (75.7 million).

So there we have it, let me reach for my calculator....

In March, for three of the past four years the USDA have over estimated the all wheat area. They've over estimated corn twice, under estimated it once and been spot on once. For beans they've over estimated twice and under estimated twice.

Four estimates were within half a million acres (one was exactly 0.5 million out) of the accepted final planted area. Four were out by 0.6-0.9 million acres and a further four were off target by a million acres or more.

Statistically then, there's a 75% chance of the final planted area for corn, beans and wheat being at least half a million acres different to what the USDA placed in front of us on Friday. But which way, and for which commodity? If only we knew that's a pity that R. Kelly can't turn the hands of time forward a bit isn't it?

Footnote: it must have been quite a handy little knack of his when bedtime was coming up when he was a kid. "Come on R. Kelly, it's way past your bedtime..." "No it isn't Ma." "Yes it chuffin well is, you go to bed at half past eight young man and look it's nearly a quarter to nine and you haven't even brushed your teeth yet." "No it isn't Ma look it's only half past five, I've got another three hours playtime yet." "Well I'll be buggered so I will, I must hop meself off down to SpecSavers first thing in the mornin son, so I shall. Go on then, another three hours it is, but you can get down off that wardrobe you cheeky little rapscallion. You cannot fly, right, you cannot touch the sky and they are most definitely NOT wings. Never you mind what they are, they're not wings OK. I don't care if you can flap them boy, put them away. Look at the time, it's only a quarter past three, you shouldn't even be home from school yet."