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U.S. shutdown sends grain traders, farmers hunting for data

Reuters  |  CHICAGO 

By and Tom Polansek

CHICAGO (Reuters) - When the announced last week that a slew of key farm reports would not be released on Friday due to the partial government shutdown, the phones at crop forecaster blew up.

The USDA was set to release its views on the projected size of U.S. soybean stockpiles, among other data, following a record-large domestic harvest and a trade war with that has slowed U.S. exports.

Commodity traders, economists, grain merchants and farmers are anxious for crop updates as they work to project their financial balance sheets and make spring planting decisions.

"It's been crazy busy," said Sara Menker, of New York-based

The shutdown, now in its third week, has rippled across the already struggling U.S. farm economy ahead of Donald Trump's planned address at the conference in on Monday. Federal loan and have also been delayed.

To fill the void on data, traders and farmers are relying on private crop forecasters, and brokerages offering analyses on trade and supplies. Some have been scouring for tidbits on shifting weather patterns and rumours of grain exports, but say it is difficult to replace the USDA.

"We're just doing the best we can, looking for as much information as is available," said Brian Basting, for Illinois-based Advance Trading, which provides customers its own harvest and crop supply estimates.

Dan Henebry, an corn and soy farmer, of USDA data was difficult.

"You delay all these reports and the market has no idea where to go, other than trade guesses," Henebry said.

HUNT FOR NUMBERS

has been offering free access to its data platform since Dec. 27, and released worldwide supply-demand crop forecasts on Friday.

The company's estimates for the U.S. 2018-2019 corn crop yield were 177.4 bushels per acre, below both last forecast and lower than the average of estimates in a survey. Gro pegged the U.S. 2018-2019 soybean yield at 50.6 bushels per acre, also below USDA and below the range of Reuters' survey.

The company will keep its platform open for the duration of the shutdown, Menker said.

So far, Menker said, the site has signed up executives from the top 10 global companies and financial institutions with credit exposure to U.S. agriculture.

Data firm has gained new subscribers too, as it has become the only source for organic commodity prices since the halt in USDA reports, said. The Maryland-based company is making an additional pricing report available to users for free until the federal agency reopens.

"Everybody still needs this information for creating contracts, new product lines, planting acres," Heilman said.

Farmers Business Network (FBN), which collects harvest data from 7,000 U.S. farmers, was set to release crop yield estimates on Friday to members. The data is not as comprehensive as the report would have been, though, said Kevin McNew, FBN's chief

"At the end of the day, we still need a benchmark," McNew said. "For better or worse, USDA is the best benchmark we have."

Trading volume in grain futures typically jumps on the day in mid-January when the USDA releases its major reports. But without the reports on Friday, volume fell in the most actively traded corn and soy contracts, and rose less in wheat futures than it typically does when USDA issues its data, according to preliminary data from CBOT owner CME Group Inc .

While crops are not growing in during the winter season, traders are still looking for updated information from and other parts of the world where soy and other crops are growing.

An increase in private companies using to track farmed fields in recent years helps shine a light on global crop conditions even while government agencies are dark. The government's Landsat satellites continue to collect images of the earth and other data.

Private companies such as New Mexico-based crop forecaster can still access the open-sourced data and analyse it. The public can normally see those images on the U.S. Geological Survey's website, but it is not being updated during the shutdown, according to a notice on the site.

And all technology can be problematic, said Steve Truitt, for Descartes.

Data occasionally has shown up late during the shutdown, or not arrived, Truitt said. The USDA and Interior Department staffers who Descartes usually calls either cannot be reached or are working without pay, he said, leading to awkward conversations.

(Reporting by and in Chicago; Additional reporting by and in Chicago; Editing by and Matthew Lewis)

(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by the Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sat, January 12 2019. 05:08 IST
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