USDA Shutdown Leads to Uncertainty Re: Release of Key Reports

Posted on 01/03/2019 3:23 PM

Reports will eventually be released | Undersec. Northey talks MFP payments, loans

USDA is currently assessing the situation relative to a batch of key market updates that are scheduled to be released on January 11, but the partial government shutdown is raising questions about the timing of those reports.

Important reports ahead. USDA is scheduled to release its Annual Summary, Grain Stocks, Winter Wheat and Canola Seedings from the National Ag Statistics Service (NASS) and the World Agricultural Outlook Board's WASDE on Jan. 11. But with the partial federal government shutdown, the timing of those reports is increasingly coming into question.

NASS has the data in hand for the production, stocks and wheat seeding data, having gathered the information from U.S. farmers over the first two weeks of December. While there may have been some analysis started on that data, the partial government shutdown that started December 22 has suspended that analysis.

"If we get our funding in the next day or two, we will be able to jump right in and have enough time to get those up by the 11th," USDA Chief Economist Robert Johansson told AgriTalk on Wednesday. "But the longer this furlough lasts, the more difficult it is because it does take a little bit of time to put those reports together." USDA will have to make a decision "in the next couple of days," he added, but he pledged that USDA will announce publicly whether the reports will be released on Jan. 11 or not.

"We will wait and see in the next couple of days, and we'll have to make a call probably by Friday regarding whether we are going to be able to hit the 11th or not," Johansson said.

Johansson has made similar comments to other media outlets about the situation, including that if the government was not funded by Friday, the reports would be delayed. Contacts have signaled that USDA/NASS analysts would need about one week to complete their analysis of the data.

The last time that USDA reports were impacted by a government shutdown was in 2013, and USDA canceled its monthly Crop Production and WASDE reports. Contacts at the time indicated the reason the production report was cancelled was that samples sent to USDA's lab were stalled in the mailroom and likely degraded due to the situation and rendered them unusable.

However, in the current situation, Johansson said there are no samples involved relative to the NASS data so the analysis of the information is the remaining key. He also said USDA may be able to shorten the analysis period somewhat, including working a weekend if such actions would be needed to get the reports out as soon as possible.

Export sales data also on hiatus. The lack of funding for USDA has also resulted in the Weekly Export Sales and any daily export sales notices from being released. That has left markets uncertain in terms of official confirmation of export business that typically would be released by USDA.

USDA released the export sales data for the week ended December 13 on December 20. However, the agency has not released the weekly update since that time, meaning any export sales made since December 14 have not been publicly reported by USDA.

USDA has also not made any daily export sales announcements since the government shutdown began. US exporters are required to report large sales of some US commodities under the daily sales reporting system if they exceed certain thresholds -- U.S. exporters are also required to report all large sales activity made in a single day to a single country for certain commodities by 3:00 p.m. (ET) on the business day after a sale is made. Large export sales of certain commodities are defined as 100,000 tonnes (20,000 tonnes for soybean oil) or more of one commodity in one day to a single destination, or cumulative sales of 200,000 tonnes (40,000 tonnes for soybean oil) or more of one commodity during the weekly reporting period to a single destination.

The last time that the Weekly Export Sales was delayed came during the U.S. government shutdown in October 2013. When the 16-day shutdown ended, USDA released the weekly data for the week of September 27-October 3 on October 24. Then on October 31, USDA released a report which covered the weeks ending October 10, October 17 and October 24. The data was not broken out by the week in which the sales took place.

Expectations are USDA will follow that pattern again with the release dates dependent on when USDA receives funding to reopen.

USDA Undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation Bill Northey told AgriTalk that Market Facilitation Program payments (MFP; Trump tariff aid) are still going out to farmers. He said, “If they got signed up and got the production evidence to us by last week, certainly by Thursday, and it got through our payment system at FSA, even Friday morning activities, I believe that it'll get to get to Treasury, get to the Federal Reserve and actually get to the bank account of farmers. So our understanding is that even though our offices are now closed, our process was completed to the point that they will go to the other parts of the federal government to finish that process (such as the NRCS if those offices are open) and they'll go ahead and continue to process and make those payments.”

Asked about a potential extension to the Jan. 15 deadline for signing up for the MFP payments, Northey said, “The Secretary [USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue] will review that deadline and be able to look at whether it makes sense to do an extension or not.” Northey reminded farmers the Jan. 15 deadline is for signing up for participation in the MFP payments. They have until May 1 to provide production numbers.

Regarding loans, Northey told AgriTalk, “We may have some folks that took out a [FSA] loan in the last week or so that need to have a co-signature to deposit that… We also may have some folks that are looking to pay off a marketing assistance loan they took out at harvest and decided they're going to sell that crop in January. They need to pay off that loan to be able to get clearance to move that crop. Again, that can't happen right now, with those [FSA] offices being closed. We may also have some producers out there that have an FSA direct farm operating loan and a payment due. Again, we will take into account the fact that there is real disruption in those cases, and we will not put a producer at a disadvantage because of the shutdown. So there are several different situations that could catch folks. We're going to be aware of those and make sure that that those don't put producers and disadvantages.”


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