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There is a wide cadre of critics of government crop reports, and it includes people of all ilk in the production, marketing and trading of grain. 

They are adverse to the data collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and disseminated, ostensibly, for the good and welfare of American agriculture.

Then there are the advocates for the collection and dissemination of information about crop size, crop quality, projected use of U.S. grain crops and keeping tabs on how close and how far away the USDA is compared to earlier projections.

The opponents and supporters reside in all facets of the spectrum of the grain trade, but since the USDA’s National Agriculture Statistics Service and the Office of the Chief USDA Economist regularly release their detailed surveys of farmers and grain processors, transparency has been the rule of the road for many years.

Supporters of transparency tell farmers that the USDA’s data collection is done on behalf of farmers, because the grain traders and grain processors have the financial wherewithal to obtain their own data and know exactly where the market should be for corn, soybeans and other commodities.  Subsequently, the USDA’s weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual reports are a service to the individual producer or hedger and it is being done to assure that corn, soybean and other growers have access to the same data kept by grain trading companies.

But now things have changed.

Since the government shutdown that began on Dec. 21, those reports and statistical data sets are not being collected, and the data is not being disseminated to the farming public. The USDA statisticians and enumerators are considered to be non-essential government employees and have been furloughed for the duration of the shutdown over the funding of the Mexican border wall. One wag, a market analyst who opposes government reports, tweeted “if they are non-essential, why are they even there?” 

But he is typically facetious, and no less of a comment would have been expected.

So, now we get to live life in the agricultural marketplace without the regular statistical reports from the USDA. 

There is no need currently for the weekly updates on whether the corn has tasseled and how much of the soybean crop has been harvested. But it would be beneficial to know how many millions of corn and soybean acres remain unharvested. The final USDA crop progress report of the year on Dec. 1 indicated about 9 million acres of corn and beans remained in the field.

If those are abandoned, in exchange for a crop insurance indemnity payment, it would be beneficial to know that data because it would certainly reduce the corn and soybean surplus, tighten the stocks to use ratio and shift the price into the stratosphere.

U.S. farmers and the world await the USDA’s final report on the 2018 crop, scheduled for release on Jan. 11, hoping that it is not like “Waiting for Godot.”

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Stu Ellis is an observer of the Central Illinois agriculture scene. In addition to his weekly column, you can view his “From The Farm” and “Harvest Heritage” reports on WCIA 3 News.




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