Gov’t Shutdown Duration Remains Key for USDA Data Releases

October 11, 2013 10:22 AM

via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

Release of October crop report still a question; potential for data gap exists

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.

How long the partial government shutdown lasts is seen as the key factor in whether or not USDA will issue the October Crop Production and Supply/Demand reports, according to sources.

Many of the issues outlined by sources familiar with the survey and data-gathering procedures used by the National Ag Statistics Service (NASS) are still key unknowns. These include how much data NASS has already but has not been tabulated/analyzed; how many samples are at the NASS lab in St Louis for processing there; whether or not field enumerators followed or ignored the cease and desist order issued upon the commencement of the partial government shutdown; and how much of the farmer survey portion of the data gathering effort remains to be completed and compiled.

Here is a rundown of the issues that several observers say remain outstanding:

NASS data on hand: Sources signal that when the shutdown ends, it would potentially take at least a day or two to determine just how much information NASS has from the objective yield and farmer survey portion of their data gathering that was halted by the partial government shutdown that began Oct. 1. Indications are that NASS has not been allowed to contact field enumerators used to collect the objective yield survey data due to the shutdown. Consequently, contacts advise that means NASS still does not have any reading yet on how much data they actually have relative to the October report.

Samples at St. Louis lab: Samples of corn, soybeans, cotton and other spring-planted crops have most likely been arriving at the NASS lab in St. Louis despite the shutdown. Given the timeframe that objective yield data was to be gathered, for example, corn arriving at the lab was mostly likely at an elevated moisture level of perhaps 25 to 30 percent. Samples are shipped to the lab in plastic bags, and a source familiar with the process used by field enumerators said that means these samples could now have deteriorated or kernels of grain started to sprout. Further, there are cotton samples that have been arriving as well and those must be handled further to provide measurements, the source added, noting it was not clear how those may be affected by the delay created by the partial government shutdown.

Farmer surveys: Those were mailed to producers, and contacts say given the partial shutdown starting Oct.1, that means calls to farmers for information would have been able to be made through the evening of Sept. 30, but not beyond.

October Supply/Demand report: The World Ag Outlook Board could still release a Supply/Demand report even if NASS does not release a corn and soybean production update. They would most likely use the September crop estimates, they would have the 2012/13 carryover levels (via the Sept. 30 Grain Stocks data) and would have current usage estimates to be able to compile the report. And of course that report would be able to include global/world estimates as usual.

November report implications: At this stage, usually reliable contacts signal the work for the November Crop Production report was not due to begin until Oct. 23 or 24 for the objective yield survey portion, with the farmer survey work to start around Oct. 29. Those clearly could still begin on schedule, but that will depend on when the partial government shutdown ends. But a major question remains relative to the final harvest samples that would be taken as the farmer finishes harvest in fields that have objective yield plots. In addition, harvest loss data is also to be gathered following harvest and enumerators are directed to gather that data before any tillage work or animal activity can affect the amount of seed on the ground, etc.

Also, contacts note that in a typical season, there may only be one soybean sample take at harvest time and if harvest has already taken place during the shutdown, and enumerators followed the cease and desist order, there could be some data lacking there as well.

As for other questions that remain unanswered, long-time sources noted the following:

Crop Progress: The weekly Crop Progress data was last published on Sept. 30 for the week ended Sept. 29. Contacts signal they would expect at this stage that NASS would not be able to "fill in the blanks" on progress in the period covering the government shutdown so whenever that data is published, there could be a "gap" in the data from the shutdown.

Other NASS reports: Data preparation for the monthly Cattle on Feed data typically takes place in Washington the week of the report and unless the government reopens early in the week, that report currently scheduled for release Oct. 18 could be delayed.

Data User’s meeting: USDA/NASS each October hold a data user’s meeting in which the public attends and receives presentations on the USDA data and provide feedback to the agencies on how the data is viewed in the marketplace. That is currently scheduled for Oct. 21, so that could be affected if the partial shutdown stretches into the week of Oct. 21.

But the key question that still remains unanswered and one that won’t be able to be answered until after the partial government shutdown ends is the impact the situation will have on the November Crop Production report, typically the last estimate of US corn and soybean production that is released prior to the Annual Production Summary that is due to be released Jan. 10, 2014. "That report still remains a big question in my mind," said one source. "If NASS has ‘lost’ data due to harvest activity, etc., that makes the November data that much harder to compile given the normal procedures NASS uses. That would likely put more weight on the farmer portion of the data gathering and could mean that a harvest loss may not be as clear at that stage."

Comments: The situation would now put even more attention on the Annual Summary in Jan. 2014. As one long-term data watcher noted, "That report relies almost exclusively on the quarterly survey that takes place in December and that could be the next ‘best’ reading on 2013 production that is out there. And, since it is not clear at this stage just how much of the objective yield data NASS will have for either any October or the November report, at least the way NASS does the Annual Summary there will be an accurate read on 2013 corn and soybean production in January."


NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.






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