« PreviousContinue »
very good consensus of opinion. Then, in making up my final estimates I do not rely on my own judgment alone, but I have a cropreporting board, consisting of officials and employees of the Bureau, that I call in on cotton-men from the South, employed by the Bureau, who are themselves familiar with cotton and are
The CHAIRMAN. Do you mean field agents?
Mr. OLMSTED. State agents and field agents. Latterly I have been calling on State agents, and they form a part of the crop-reporting board. There are five members of that board, including myself. I place before each member of that crop-reporting board a sheet on which are tabulated, in parallel columns, the figures resulting from the reports of these different classes of correspondents for each State. Those men sit down and, independently of each other, without consulting each other, after reading the reports of the Weather Bureau, any special letters received, any special reports we have, and any other information at all that we deem reliable, each member of the board considers each State separately and formulates a figure for that State without consulting the other members.
After that has been done by each member of the board separately, the results obtained by them are brought together on a final sheet in parallel columns, and then the board as a whole considers them. Where the disagreement is very wide, which it seldom is--it is remarkable how closely the independent judgments of those men agree --we discuss the matter. We go over the ground again. We reconsider the information we have had before us, and the result of the whole thing is that we finally agree on a figure, either as to acreage, condition, yiel], or whatever the subject may be that we have under discussion, for each State separately. Having that, we arrive, by a scientific process, at a figure that is known as the "weighted average” for the whole United States.
If you would like to have me, I will explain the term "weighted average.' We weight the figure for each State by the acreage of that State or the production of that State-it depends on the crop-or a combination of both, so that each State will be given its relative importance. For instance, Texas produces a great deal more cotton than any other two States, I might say; so it would be entitled to much more weight in this final computation than a State like Tennessee or a State like Virginia, which produces very little. And in that way we arrive at a weighted figure for the whole United States.
The CHAIRMAN. That simply results in a general average of information?
Mr. OLMSTED. A scientific weighted average for the United States.
The CHAIRMAN. Yes. What proportion of the information that you obtain-upon which you make your estimate-is obtained from correspondence, as distinguished from personal investigation by your agents?
Mr. OLMSTED. We receive a great many more reports from correspondents, of course, because we have many thousands of them.
The CHAIRMAN. About what percentage of the information that you finally act on?
Mr. OLMSTED. About 80 per cent.
The CHAIRMAN. I will not ask you to go into that in detail, but it impresses me that the overwhelming preponderance of information that you have is from correspondents.
Mr. OlMSTED. The preponderance is from voluntary correspondents; but we have found that the information of our field agents and our State agents is sometimes-it depends on circumstances-entitled to more weight than that given by the voluntary correspondents.
The CHAIRMAN. It was not so much a question of weight with me; but taking the aggregate of information, I rather got the impression from your statement that probably 80 per cent of this information was from correspondents.
Mr. OLMSTED. We get more information from voluntary correspondents than from any other source, considering the number of pieces of papers we get-the actual reports we receive.
The CHAIRMAN. That is what I mean.
Mr. OLMSTED. Of course the great mass of the reports we receive comes from voluntary correspondents.
The CHAIRMAN. Eighty per cent of it?
Mr. OLMSTED. Yes; I should say so. The other 20 per cent is from salaried officials who are paid to do this work and devote their whole time to it and do nothing else.
The CHAIRMAN. That is, as distinguished from the voluntary correspondents?
Mr. OLMSTED. As distinguished from the voluntary ones.
The CHAIRMAN. But as to the salaried officials-in other words, not over 20 per cent of your information comes from personal investigation by the direct representatives of the Department; but the information is collected, other than about 20 per cent of it, through voluntary correspondents, such as you have explained ?
Mr. OLMSTED. Yes, sir.
The CHAIRMAN. Now, how do you reach your percentage of change in conditions from month to month?
Mr. OLMSTED. In this way. The same way that is adopted by all scientific agricultural bureaus throughout the United States, and in every State of the Union, so far as I know, and in Austria and Germany and Great Britian and Russia and everywhere else. We adopt a basis called the normal; that is, such a condition as gives promise of a full crop.
The CHAIRMAN. What is your normal crop figure?
Mr. QLMSTED. The normal condition is such a condition as gives promise, at the date the observation is made, of a full crop. That is represented by 100. Now, if a farmer or any other man thinks that the evidences are, at present, that only 75 per cent, or three-fourths of a crop, will be made, he will give the condition as 75. If he thinks things are in very bad shape, so that they are only going to make half a crop, he will say the condition is 50. If he thinks that they are going to make within 10 per cent of a full crop, if the conditions are very good, he will say it is 90. If it is an abnormally good year, he might say it is 101 or 102.
The CHAIRMAN. Now, what is the basis of a full crop—what is assumed as 100?
Mr. OlMSTED. That is a very variable thing.
Mr. OLMSTED. Every farmer, every grower of wheat, corn, rye, oats, cotton, or what not, has in his own mind his idea of what a full crop would be. In Ohio 40 bushels per acre would be a full crop of corn.
The CHAIRMAN. Let me ask you this question right there, so that you can explain it as you go on-because I want you to explain it fully: Is not that really the factor that renders the whole equation unstable and uncertain ?
Mr. OLMSTED. No, sir; that is what renders it certain.
Mr. OLMSTED. If we adopted a fixed figure with reference to that normal, it would not be certain at all, because that fixed figure would not apply to every locality. Every locality has a different measure of a
In Ohio, for instance, we might say that the normal crop would be 40 bushels per acre. In South Carolina it would be 10 bushels per acre. Those farmers know what a full crop is in their country, .
The CHAIRMAN. Do they, within your knowledge, take, say 40 bushels per acre as the normal, 100 per cent?
Mr. OLMSTED. If that is the full crop in the locality of the man who makes the report as to that. We can not fix it.
The CHAIRMAN. Does that vary in every locality? For instance, does one farmer say to himself
Mr. OLMSTED. No; pot every locality. It varies in every considerable section, of course, but not in every little locality. One part of a State will make 40 bushels per acre, normally, if a full crop be made; while in another section of the same State the farmers may make 35 bushels per acre as the normal. The land is not quite so good.
The CHAIRMAN. Are you in the possession of information so that you know what the exact normal figure is?
Mr. OLMSTED. No; but these correspondents are. They live there. They are on the ground, and they know for their own locality what the normal crop is there. They are asked to report on that basis, and they do report on that basis, and have done so for the last forty years.
The CHAIRMAN. And whatever standard, in their judgment, is the normal standard is the basis of your information?
Mr. OLMSTED. That we adopt; yes, sir; and we do not pretend that it is anything else but a comparison with the normal condition. The whole commercial world, in the case of cotton, for instance, when we say that the condition of the cotton crop is 75 (if that should be the figure) would know that the indications at that time were, according to the opinions of the people who made the reports, that three-quarters of a normal crop would be made.
Those figures are valuable particularly as they are used in comparison with preceding years. You see, we have a ten-year basis, which we keep up all the time. We give an average for ten years, and we show the preceding year in comparison with the average years for the same month, and that results in a formula which enables us to work out, by means of these condition figures, very closely what the crop may be. It works out nearly exactly all the time; and if my predecessors had confined themselves to that formula they would have been much closer in their estimates for many crops than they have been.
The CHAIRMAN. What have been the results heretofore in connection with this Bureau as to the cotton crop? What I want to know is, how have the actual results of the crop compared with the forecasts and estimates made by the Department?
Mr. OLMSTED. They have resulted, when reduced to a common basis, in marvelous accuracy-something almost unbelievable. Mr. Hyde, my predecessor, had a way of estimating the crop in bales of an indefinite weight. He did not state the weight of the bales, and no one knew what those bales weighed. He would not say. He would say “so many bales.” But by going back into his figures, and digging into them, I have found the number of pounds that he used in arriving at his bales.
The CHAIRMAN. He did not give the public that information?
Mr. OlMSTED. No; he would say “so many bales," without saying how much the bales weighed.
The CHAIRMAX. What is that sort of an estimate worth?
Mr. OLMSTED. I did not regard it as valuable at all, myself; and I changed the whole thing when I took charge of it, as soon as I could.
The CHAIRMAN. How long had this Department been running this thing on the basis of bales, without letting anybody know what the bales were?
Mr. OLMSTED. I do not know how long; but I know that the bales he estimated did not compare at all with the bales as finally determined, because they were bales of a different kind. The Census Office bales have been 500-pound bales, gross weight, since 1899. Ilis bales were bales of an indefinite weight.
The CHAIRMAN. They might just as well have been in pounds, or better; might they not?
Mr. 'OLMSTED. Well, I do not think it was a proper way to do the work; but that is the way he made his estimates. It would have been just as easy to make them in bales of a definite weight, which I have done since Mr. Ilays was in charge of the Bureau, last year, and I have continued it since I have been in charge; and I intend to do it.
I believe you asked how close the estimates have been?
Mr. OLMSTED. I took the Census Office bales from 1899 up to last year and reduced them to pounds. Then I took the estimate of the Bureau in bales and went back to the original figures and found how many pounds there were in the bales; and I found that there was a marvelous closeness. The widest divergence that I found was 4.4 per cent, and it ran down in some years to a fraction of 1 per cent; but the average divergence for a period of seven years was only seven-tenths of 1 per cent, taking the pound basis, by which cotton is bought and sold. It is not bought and sold by the bale; it is bought and sold by the pound, and the pound is the true measure of any crop of cottonthe true measure of the quantity of cotton produced.
The CHAIRMAN. And your statement now is based upon information on file in the Department?
Mr. OLMSTED. Yes, sir; but not published.
The CHAIRMAN. What we would like to know is how nearly the actual results have tallied with the estimates of the Department, published and given to the public. The information on file in the Department, that does not go to the public, is not of very great value to the public.
Mr. OLMSTED. You are right about that, certainly. Comparing the number of bales estimated by Mr. Hyde with the number of some other kind of bales, nobody knows what kind, as afterwards deter
mined, there was considerable divergence. There was a divergence as high as 10 per cent some years, or perhaps higher.
The CHAIRMAN. I do not see, then, from your explanation, that his estimates were worth anything.
Mr. OLMSTED. I do not think they were very valuable, sir.
Mr. OLMSTED. I do not think so. But, Mr. Littlefield, I want to say this to you: That in every other subject he dealt with except cotton he dealt in a definite unit. Cotton is only one thing that the Bureau deals with, you know; and the amount of money that is devoted to cotton out of our total appropriation does not amount to $25,000 a year, because we have all these other crops. Now, I will say, in justification of the former statistician, that with every other crop he did deal in definite units. For instance, he estimated the number of bushels of wheat, and the number of bushels of rye, and the number of bushels of corn, and the number of pounds of flax seed, and the number of tons of hay. In everything else, in every other estimate except cotton, he did deal in a definite unit. But in cotton, for some reason, the unit of his estimate or the basis of his estimate was indefinite.
The CHAIRMAN. He seems to have differentiated between that and the other crops.
Mr. OLMSTED. But I have made it definite, and I propose, as long as I am there, to keep it so, in spite of the protests of people who would like to have my estimate in an indefinite form that anybody could twist to mean what they pleased.
The CHAIRMAN. That simply keeps the market in an uncertain condition all the time?
Mr. OLMSTED. Why, certainly. In the case of my estimate, I think anybody of ordinary intelligence knows what I mean. Whether I am right or wrong, they know what I mean, at any rate.
The CHAIRMAN. I received a letter last March which I will now read, so that you can explain in relation thereto. I imagine that what you have already stated perhaps furnishes the explanation, but at any rate I want you to explain it in your own way.
Mr. OLMSTED. Yes, sir.
New York, March 31, 1906. Hon. Chas. E. LITTLEFIELD,
House of Representatives, Washington, D.C. DEAR SIR: I notice by the newspapers that an investigation is being conducted by the Committee on Expenditures of the Department of Agriculture with the view of reducing unnecessary expenditures of public money.
I have for thirty years been a compiler and publisher of statistics in reference to cotton, and I doubt very much if anyone outside of the Department of Agriculture itself has paid more attention to the reports of the Department in respect to cotton than I have.
The estimates of the Department of Agriculture in respect to acreage and yield and the condition of cotton have for a number of years been exceedingly inaccurate.
The object of the reports issued by the Department of Agriculture in respect to cotton and in respect to other agricultural products is to give those interested in these matters reliable information respecting them. Many of the reports issued by the Department of Agriculture, if published without the Government stamp upon them, would not have the slightest credit with intelligent men in the cotton trade anywhere, because they are frequently on their face so grossly and absolutely inaccurate. Incorrect statements issued by the Government in regard to anything are not only of no benefit to the public, but are absolutely harmful to all legitimate interests, because they mislead people.