A crop year is the growth cycle of a crop, from planting until it is ready to be harvested.
How a Crop Year Works
A crop is an agricultural commodity or a soft commodity. This includes corn, soybeans, wheat, and several other agricultural products. A crop year refers to the planting and harvest of these commodities and so the "year" is not based on the lunar calendar. The year is the cycle of the plant. Crops that have a shorter growing cycle may come to maturity in a few months. When farmers harvest the crop, the crop year ends. Each harvest will result in a different yield, and of differing quality.
Real World Example of a Crop Year
In 2020, COVID-19 took the world, and economy, by force. Demand in grocery stores rose, and demand in food service establishments such as restaurants and bars plummeted. Combined with a sudden loss in jobs globally and a sharp downturn in the economy, farmers faced difficulty in the harvests they had already planted. Following crop year guidelines that the USDA set pre-global pandemic affected the harvest negatively. While most harvest yields were not affected by the pandemic, there was suddenly a shortage of farm labor. Because the farmers followed projected crop year expectations, suddenly they couldn't keep up with the mass of product they needed to harvest.
Crop Year vs. Crop Yield
Both terms deal with agricultural commodities. However, the term crop year deals only in a timeframe. Crop yield deals exclusively with a quantity of the product. Crop yield is the amount of product that is successfully harvested at the end of the crop year. Many factors during a crop year can affect crop yield, but they are two separate measurements.
Significance of Crop Year
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) analyzes crop year data. They are in charge of logging data on all previous crops, weather, and past pricing of harvests. The organization cannot use long-term weather predictions to estimate the results of a crop year. However, they can estimate a crop year's "average" weather conditions for the region. The USDA then uses this collective information to determine how successful the upcoming crop year's yield may be and what demand will be like for each commodity. The USDA then publishes its projections on its website.
This publication is incredibly important for farmers, as they can then adjust their crops to account for pricing or overall abundance or demand of a product. This is where you may see increased demand from "trendy" foods skewing the direction of agriculture in America. When demand rises for an individual product, prices shift as well, so it is incredibly important for the USDA to monitor the past crop years and upcoming shifts in the market. They must compile this information and publish it for farmers, as farmers will then choose how and when to plant their fields. While some may choose to stick with one individual commodity, others may choose to rotate a crop out for a more favorable outcome, financially or agriculturally.