A little more than a week into the federal government shutdown, researchers, economists and journalists are finding frustration and uncertainty in closure of federal labs, offices and the online data spigot that was www.usda.gov.
The U.S. Agriculture Department has maintained everything from acres grown and harvested to yields and other information critical to the commodity markets. When the government shut down last Tuesday, so did the USDA site. Other sites, such as the U.S. Geological Survey still had active pages, saying “Only web sites necessary to protect lives and property will be maintained.”
“We appreciate the wealth of data USDA meticulously and consistently puts together,” said Scott Stiles, extension economist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. “They are missed.”
The commodity markets have to come to rely on the Thursday morning ‘Export Sales’ reports, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission ‘Commitment of Traders’ report each Friday afternoon, and the ‘Crop Progress’ each Monday afternoon, he said, adding that there are many other reports from the various agencies within the USDA that are closely followed.
“Based on information released Monday, we won't see the monthly National Agricultural Statistics Service ‘Crop Production’ and ‘World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates’ that were scheduled for release this Friday,” Stiles said.
“In my opinion, without the USDA Supply/Demand and ‘Crop Production’ reports this week trading volume is declining in some commodities over the past week,” he said. “In other words, without these key fundamental data, many traders -- the speculative traders in particular -- may pull out of the grain markets.”
Seeking other sources
Without the USDA’s online data source, journalists are looking elsewhere.
“We were looking forward to reporting on USDA’s Oct. 11 reports on supply and demand,” said Elton Robinson, editor at Delta Farm Press. “It was an important one going into the fall.”
Absent that report, Robinson said the direction of the planned story had changed to become one “on where to go for marketing information now that the report could be delayed, or even cancelled,” he said. “This means many of the independent brokerage firms that also analyze and provide guesstimates on the numbers will become more important. But they don’t have the overall experience and reach to be as accurate and consistent as USDA.”