Crop Reports Likely Delayed

January Reports Will Be Delayed if Government Shutdown Moves into Friday

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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Most USDA employees remain furloughed on Thursday as officials have to make a call Friday whether to delay the Jan. 11 crop reports, because of the partial government shutdown over a funding dispute between President Donald Trump and Congress. (DTN file photo of USDA's Whitten Building in Washington, D.C.)

OMAHA (DTN) -- USDA will have to delay release of the suite of Jan. 11 crop reports if the department and federal government are not funded and running on Friday, USDA's chief economist told DTN on Thursday.

The federal government is approaching the second week of a partial shutdown that largely depends on President Donald Trump reaching a compromise with newly installed Democratic-led House leaders that also would pass the Republican-led Senate. The House was planning a late vote on a funding measure, but Senate leadership had already indicated the bill was unacceptable because it does not meet the president's demands for funding a border wall.

The Jan. 11 list of crop reports includes the monthly World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates, quarterly Grain Stocks, both monthly and annual Crop Production reports, Winter Wheat/Canola Seedings, Rice Stocks and Cotton Ginning numbers. The combination of reports makes January one of the bigger months in terms of market impacts.

Robert Johansson, USDA's chief economist, told DTN that USDA could still get all of the reports prepared for next week if USDA agencies return to work on Friday.

"If we're not back at work tomorrow, if we don't get funding, we'll put out a notice that we are delaying the Jan. 11 reports," Johansson said. "Once we get funding back, we'll put out a notice that indicates when we'll be able to put the reports out."

Johansson said it generally takes a "good four or five days" to put together the main crop reports and the WASDE. If funding comes in by the middle of next week, Johansson said, staff could probably work through the weekend of Jan. 12-13 to have a date set for early that following week.

"We'll try to get it out as quickly as possible to minimize any kind of disruption," he said. "We're going to get the reports out. We won't not publish them, but it's a matter of getting folks back into the office to work on them."

As DTN Lead Analyst Todd Hultman noted Wednesday, "The January WASDE report is often considered the final crop estimate of the season and has surprised markets at times. January's estimates are not always final, however, and it wouldn't be surprising to get another soybean crop estimate later as this fall saw tough harvest conditions in several areas."

Hultman added that three of the past five years saw March soybean prices trade higher by double digits after the January report, but a 36 1/4-cent loss was posted in 2015.

The January report will also have helpful estimates of South American crops and U.S. soybean demand, "which traders are waiting eagerly for while the government is currently not publishing U.S. export sales," Hultman said.

The quarterly Grain Stocks reports also are the best measure of actual grain demand from any sources -- public or private -- and stock numbers from Dec. 1 are no exception, Hultman added.

A lot of the work by the National Agricultural Statistics Service for the Jan. 11 Crop Production and quarterly Grain Stocks reports has already been done, but needs to be complied and analyzed. Most surveys for grain stocks and wheat seeding also were done the first two weeks in December, so USDA has the numbers, but they may not have been tabulated before now. NASS could be the main determining factor on when some of those reports come out, because of the time it takes for NASS staff to compile and analyze the data from those earlier surveys.

One of the biggest concerns for the WASDE report comes from the export sales numbers, which the economists would not get until a shutdown ends. Companies still have to report flash sales, but none of those sales are being announced right now by the Foreign Agricultural Service in daily or weekly reports during the shutdown.

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Chris Clayton