Bad year for forecasts

Most of us would agree that 2020 has not been a great year.  From COVID to politics the year has seen one challenge after another.  It has been an especially tough year for those in the prediction business.  Predicting the future is of course predictably difficult.  Some predictions we almost expect to be wrong.  Each day we check out our local weather forecast and plan our day around it while not being at all surprised, because of past failures, when it is wrong.  2020 however has seen some big misses by forecasters.  Remember when COVID started earlier this year?  Some predicted it would be over when the weather warmed up.  Few predicted in March that we would still be dealing with it in November.  Then some predicted a vaccine wouldn’t be available until sometime next year if then.  Now it looks like we’ll have a couple by year’s end (hopefully). Political forecasters had an especially bad year.  Many predicted a blue wave in Congress for Democrats.  Instead of strengthening their majority in the House, the numbers have tightened after several unexpected Republican flips. There were predictions of a landslide victory in the Presidential election but even if Joe Biden holds on to the win it will by no means be a mandate that comes from on overwhelming victory.  The numbers reflect a divided nation not a Red or Blue wave. Then there are the commodity market forecasters.  I have several good friends in this business and I respect their opinions.  Still they have had a rough year.  No one that I know of back in July was predicting the kind of market rally we saw during harvest season.  Back then the focus was on record stocks and a potential record harvest to add to them.  Many questioned how much China would buy and demand during a pandemic seemed unlikely to be very good.  Now the script has been flipped.  Stocks are lower, sales are up and the harvest was good not great leaving many farmers wishing they hadn’t sold so much so soon keeping them from taking full advantage of the rally.  Still this is a good miss if there is such a thing.  Even though they may not have hit the highs with their marketing, many were able to sell at a profit which looked doubtful this summer.  For the forecasters, there’s comfort in numbers.  They were all wrong so none of their inaccurate predictions stood out more than others.  In their defense, predictions are based on information available at the time you make them.  In a year of bad news this unexpected rally is good news for a struggling ag economy and hopefully will carry into 2021.  Then again a year ago the arrows seemed pointed up for 2020.  After a tough 2019 many said they couldn’t wait to turn the calendar to a new year which would surely be better than the last.  Be careful what you wish for!  If nothing else, 2020 has shown us the risks of looking too far ahead.  That said, I’ll check the weather forecast first thing in the morning and then check with the market “experts” for their outlook.  After all, they’re due to be right!

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