Still Far More Questions Than Answers Re: USDA Oct. Reports

October 9, 2013 12:31 AM
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via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

Other USDA reports to be released this month are uncertain

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

USDA’s October Crop Production and Supply/Demand reports remain a question mark at this stage given the ongoing partial government shutdown that halted the data-gathering process involved with generating the estimates, according to sources.

Contacts familiar with the estimating procedures used by the National Ag Statistics Service (NASS) say it now may be a question on whether the October production update does indeed get issued.

When you look at the process used by NASS and how it was impacted by the shutdown,” one source noted, “it may be a real question on whether the report can be issued. At this stage, NASS has no real idea of how much data they have or don’t have.” The objective yield portion for the October report was not completed as of the start of the government shutdown on Oct. 1, which one source said prompted the agency to instruct enumerators to “cease and desist” in their data-gathering efforts.

It’s not clear how many samples may be sitting at the USDA lab for processing,” another source familiar with the data-gathering process noted. “And then there’s the matter of the farmer survey portion and how far along that got before the shutdown.”

Contacts previously signaled the objective yield data gathering was to run through Oct. 1 or 2 and the farmer-survey work through Oct. 7, meaning that at least one or two days of the objective yield work was halted and around a week of data gathering via the farmer surveys was suspended.

Other contacts noted this could also raise questions even about the November Crop Production report in that farmers are continuing to harvest crops.

For the NASS enumerators, they typically keep track of the plots and when the final harvest action is taking place, they collect their final samples,” said one contact. “Well, if the farmer has finished up harvest during the shutdown, then there’s a question mark about that ‘final’ harvest sample. There’s no way to tell right now if that enumerator ignored the cease and desist orders and collected that anyway or whether it has gone through the combine and is gone. That’s why I think there could be a question about even what happens with the November report.”

As for the World Ag Outlook Board that produces the Supply/Demand report, observers note there are also questions with that data if the October production data is not released. “How would the World Board deal with that,” asked one contact. “Would they just use the September crop estimate? Would they adjust it somehow? If they did, what basis would they use to make that adjustment? Those are key questions if for some reason the October production data is not released.”

While much of the focus has been on the Crop Production and Supply/Demand reports, there are other data releases which now appear poised to be delayed at the very least. NASS had announced its intention to resume using survey-based data for the Milk Production report that is scheduled for release Oct. 21. Data gathering for that release was expected to start next week, according to contacts.

Also, the monthly Cattle on Feed report is scheduled to be released Oct. 18, with again no indication of the level of survey work and data compilation remaining to be done.

As for the weekly Crop Progress data, that too remains uncertain as the shutdown drags on for many of the same reasons as outlined above.

In addition, the October Crop Production report is typically when NASS will utilize certified acreage information from the Farm Service Agency (FSA) as a data source for the acreage portion of the report. FSA offices will not have been updating that data since the shutdown started, but NASS typically receives information on a weekly basis from FSA and that takes place early in the week.

Comments: The longer the shutdown lasts, the bigger the questions loom about the October Crop Production report in particular. And the longer it goes on, the November data may also become a question given that harvest activity didn’t halt for the government shutdown even if data gathering did. This may also spur some kind of debate about the definition of “essential” personnel that is used by the government in cases like this. For example, the shutdown materials for the Office of the Chief Economist (OCE) note the following: “No activities of OCE involve law enforcement, health, safety, life, or property.” Given the importance of this data to market participants and others, some say a re-examination needs to be made as that issue of “property” certainly could be argued as being potentially impacted by the current shutdown.

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






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