The crash launch of USDA's weekly export sales reports at the end of August has led the ranking member of the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee to suggest the failure was because USDA's leadership isn't focused on the day-to-day functions at the department, but on "the Biden administration's political agenda."
The system will remain down on Thursday, but USDA expects to release new data on Sept. 15.
Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack laying out his criticisms.
USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service was launching a new sales reporting system on Aug. 25 when FAS "encountered issues that affected both the quality and the physical dissemination" -- in other words, the system failed to launch correctly. FAS not only had to retract that data published that day, but weekly export sales for Sept. 1 were not published and sales will not be published on Thursday, Sept. 8. USDA stated FAS expects to resume regular reporting of weekly export sales on Sept. 15.
The weekly export sales report is followed by grain traders to determine how sales mesh with forecasts for annual sales of major commodities. The report also shows how international demand for grain and oilseeds is trending at different times of the year.
Speaking at the Farm Progress Show last week, Vilsack said, "We're going to make sure we've got it fixed and I appreciate the fact when they made the mistake, we owned up to it," adding, "Mistakes happen."
Boozman, in his letter, wrote he is "troubled" by the handling of the situation and the inability tot report the data as expected. "I am also disappointed in the outreach efforts from USDA to inform all appropriate stakeholders, including myself and other Committee members, prior to executing this update."
It was only after the technical problems happened were lawmakers and others provided more information about the need to modernize the Export Sales Reporting and Maintenance System and the plan to return to the legacy reporting system.
USDA's effort to modernize its system was a resulted in "what some suggest was a hurried system to launch," Boozman wrote, adding "U.S. and world traders are now limited in price discovery for many commodities for a duration of three weeks, notably at the beginning of the marketing year for corn and soybeans."
Boozman added he's concerned how this lack of data will affect global food prices, inflation and food supplies with Russia's invasion of Ukraine and worsening crop conditions.
"From a stakeholder perspective, this misstep suggests USDA's Senior leadership is not attuned to the Department's important, day-to-day functions," Boozman wrote. "I strongly encourage you to ensure that Senior leadership at USDA does not put the Administration's political agenda ahead of the Department's fundamental mission, which is to provide stability to U.S. agriculture and its stakeholders."
FAS weekly export sales: https://apps.fas.usda.gov/…
Boozman's full letter can be viewed at https://www.agriculture.senate.gov/…
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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