U.S. cancels October crop report, first miss in decades

The U.S. government on Thursday canceled its monthly crop report for the first time ever, and said it will not estimate U.S. or world crop production until early November.

Cancellation of the October report means the first harvest-time estimate of U.S. crops will be Nov. 8. The production report and companion data on crops worldwide are the U.S. Agriculture Department’s premiere reports. They attract a worldwide audience and frequently affect commodity prices.

The cancellations will result in a two-month gap from USDA’s previous estimates, issued on Sept. 12, until the update set for Nov. 8.

USDA announced the cancellations as the government returned to work after a 17-day shutdown due to lack of funding. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack greeted employees as they entered the USDA complex on the national Mall. “Good to have you back,” he said.

“While the lapse in federal funding has ended, NASS has not been able to engage in the necessary data collection and analysis over the past few weeks,” said USDA, referring to its National Agricultural Statistics Service, the agency that produces hundreds of reports yearly.

USDA usually spends three weeks in compiling data for the crop report, beginning with a two-week survey of growers and spot-checks of yields on hundreds of plots nationwide.

The last time USDA delayed its premiere reports was September 2001, when they were delayed by two days in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks. The reports were delayed occasionally due to heavy snowstorms.

Officials checked records into the early 1970s without finding an occasion when the crop report was not issued at all.

Besides the crop report and the companion World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report, USDA said it cancelled two weekly reports on crop conditions. It said a monthly Cattle on Feed report, due on Friday, was postponed, along with a report on peanut prices.

“NASS is assessing its data collection plans and evaluating the timing of upcoming reports,” said USDA.

Officials met to decide what to do about USDA’s weekly report of grain, soybean and cotton exports, a report that also is an important indicator of activity for the world’s largest agricultural exporter.

The weeks-long process of collecting data for the monthly U.S. crop production report was about half finished when USDA’s army of some 3,400 crop scouts was furloughed on Oct. 1.

USDA contacts about 14,400 farmers as part of estimating U.S. corn, soybean, cotton and other crops — mostly by telephone but also by mail, Internet, and face-to-face meetings — for the October report.

Work on the scheduled Nov. 8 crop report would typically start about a week from now.

Agricultural markets have been flying partially blind since the daily gusher of reports from USDA was shut off on Oct. 1.

“I’m on pins and needles waiting to hear” the fate of the reports, one cotton analyst said on Thursday.

— Charles Abbott is a Reuters correspondent covering U.S. farm, agrifood and ag trade policy from Washington, D.C.

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