Seeing that the number of goats in the U.S. had been growing from 1997 to 2007 and then declined until 2012, I searched for this year’s number and discovered there was none. That led me to a mystery.
First, the goats…
Every dot represents 500 goats.
As you can see from the map, when you think goats, think Texas. Texas is the goat center of the U.S. Two Texas counties have the largest concentration of goats in the country. Eight of the top ten goat producing counties are in Texas. In Sutton County, Texas goats outnumber people 14 to 1.
While my goat research indicated that goats in the U.S. primarily produce meat, milk and mohair, for me, goats are about cheese. A minor proportion of production, goat cheese makers number 100.
Perhaps most crucially, as economists, when we think goats, we should remember the federal budget. Since 1863, the USDA has collected yearly census figures for countless commodities and animals. From the USDA, we learned that Wisconsin was #1 in mink farming, Texas for pansies, and Washington with hops. Now though, faced with the need to pare back spending, the USDA has decided to diminish its statistical universe.
As a result, we will know less about the goat population.
And therein lies today’s mystery.
The Bottom Line: Price Signals
In a recent econtalk podcast, I listened to a former CEO of Cargill explain how that farmers around the world listen to the message that price and quantity provide. When farmers hear that price is up and quantity down, they have the incentive to produce more. As a result, they satisfy global food and commodity demand.
Now some of these signals, coming from the USDA, have been eliminated. Yes, the biggies like corn and soybeans remain but catfish, bees, honey and mink are among the commodities for which regular statistical reports have diminished.
Until the missing commodity totals from the USDA are remedied by private groups stepping in to fill the void, we will have statistical mysteries.