How to Irk the Crop Forecast Lady

Tacy CalliesForecast

citrus crop forecast
Candi Erick is featured on the September 2016 issue of Citrus Industry magazine.

Candi Erick is featured on the September 2016 issue of Citrus Industry magazine.

Candi Erick is keenly involved in production of Florida’s citrus crop forecasts. She’s easy to get along with, but there is one way to get under her skin.

By Ernie Neff

If you want to irritate Candi Erick, whose primary job is overseeing data collection leading to Florida’s citrus crop forecasts, just tell her, “It’s good enough for government work.”

“That is not how we operate,” says Erick, agricultural statistics administrator with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ (FDACS) Florida Agricultural Statistics Service (FASS). “I receive satisfaction from a job well done.”

Erick works cooperatively with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), which issues the monthly (from October through July) citrus crop forecasts that are cherished by Florida’s citrus industry. The first forecast of the 2016–17 season will be issued October 12. (Editor’s note: Southeast AgNet will carry the October forecast live on its radio network affiliates and by webcast at SoutheastAgNet.com. Subsequent forecasts will be webcast live.)

“The work that Candi does and that of the overall FASS crop estimate has been great and conducted in a most professional manner,” says Bob Behr, CEO of Citrus World Inc. “The level of integrity associated with their work is top drawer.” Behr is a former member of the Citrus Crop Estimates Advisory Committee, which offers input on the forecasts. He has interacted with Erick for decades, starting with his work as market and economic research director for the Florida Department of Citrus. He adds that “Candi has a very pleasant demeanor, and has been a pleasure to work with.”

Citrus grower Cody Estes, president of Estes Citrus Inc., says “the first word that comes to mind is ‘professional’” when he thinks of Erick. “Candi and her colleagues have to protect the integrity of the information they provide to our industry,” Estes says. “Candi has been able to do this while providing data and insight about how the estimate is compiled.” Estes is a member of the Citrus Crop Estimates Advisory Committee.

“Candi Erick is one of the hardest working people I know,” adds Jim Ewing, NASS southern region director and former state statistician for Florida. “She is dedicated, persistent and works hard to ensure that our citrus estimates and reports are of the highest quality.” Ewing praises her “attention to detail, professionalism and fiscal responsibility.”

Behr says the industry benefits from the citrus crop forecast in which Erick plays an integral role. “It is one of the most sophisticated crop estimate programs of the USDA, and our industry is fortunate to have had this over the years.”

crop forecast tool

Candi Erick shows a crop-forecasting tool modified from salad tongs used to measure fruit size in the field.

Behr adds that the forecasts have historically been “very accurate.” But he says “the variability of year-to-year fluctuations in the crop size has become a challenge to model” as a result of HLB, hurricanes and a canker eradication program in recent decades. “Still, I would match the FASS citrus crop estimate program against any other crop estimate program in terms of its ability to (make) accurate predictions.”

BEYOND THE FORECAST
Although the citrus crop forecasts are the best known of Erick’s work products, her job encompasses much more. She offers an overview:

“Administrative duties include oversight and control of bureau revenue and expenses. The program must stay within the allocated budget so we are always looking for better and more efficient ways to get the work done.

“I supervise the collection of citrus price data for the USDA national price program, review monthly prices, and prepare and revise annual price recommendations for the Agricultural Statistics Board’s (part of USDA/NASS) approval.

cim-sept2016-book4-9“In addition to the monthly forecast report which coincides with the USDA report, we have many other end-of-season reports, special requests, and an annual book containing production, price and value information, and tree and acreage figures. I supervise the preparation of these products and proof each page prior to printing to ensure that they comply with FDACS and USDA standards. It is Mark Hudson’s (NASS state statistician for Florida) and my job to collaboratively ensure that data security measures are followed throughout the process so that no information is compromised prior to the official release. It is also an important part of my job to lead and coach employees to help them strengthen their job skills and prepare for future duties.”

Erick attends numerous citrus industry conferences, meetings and trade shows. “It is important for me to keep up with what is happening in the industry,” she explains.


HOW SHE GOT HERE
“Mapping positions with the American Automobile Association and a background in math prepared me for the first position with FDACS in 1980,” Erick says. “Working with aerial photographs for the Commercial Citrus Inventory was a good place to start.”

cim-sept2016-book4-10“I was trained for all of the field surveys and participated regularly on the Row Count and Maturity surveys,” she recalls. “Forecasting duties included trips to the USDA headquarters in Washington, D.C. Opportunities came with retirements in the FASS bureau and I moved up to oversee the tree inventory, assist with the federal price programs, and then became the citrus program administrator.”

WHAT’S FUN; WHAT’S NOT
“The most enjoyable part of my job is being involved in the preparation of the initial (citrus crop) forecast each October,” Erick says. She and others “don’t see all of the puzzle pieces” that go into making a forecast until meeting in a secure USDA “lockup” in Washington, D.C., in early October. In the lockup, they review data and charts and present recommendations to USDA/NASS’ Agricultural Statistics Board for approval. “As soon as the lockup is over, we share the anticipated numbers over a conference call, the radio and the internet.”

“The most disturbing part of my job is witnessing the decline in once healthy groves due to HLB,” she says.

cim-sept2016-book4-10-1She says killer freezes of the 1980s altered industry planting practices and “made the Tree Inventory more challenging.” She adds that HLB made crop forecasting “much tougher now with this less homogenous tree population” and the impacts of smaller fruit sizes and fruit droppage.

LOOKING BACK AND FORWARD
“When Jim Todd (former FDACS agricultural statistics administrator) hired me in 1980, I never dreamed that one day I would have his job,” Erick says.

She is now in Florida’s Deferred Retirement Option Program and will have to leave her job by April 30, 2019, but will likely stop working sooner.

“I know I will miss the wonderful people I have met in the past four decades while working on the Florida citrus forecasting team,” she says. “It has been a rewarding experience.”

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About the Author
Ernie Neff

Ernie Neff

Senior Correspondent at Large