States cope without USDA crop updates

by Laura Lloyd
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Midwestern states in the midst of large corn and soybean harvests are making do with the ongoing lack of fresh US Department of Agriculture crop condition and harvest progress data caused by the shutdown of the federal government. The anecdote has replaced enumeration in trying to stay abreast of harvest progress and crop conditions.

The states’ chief strategy has been to give up trying to collect precise information about how much harvest progress has been made since Oct. 1, when all but “essential” government services were suspended. Instead, they have been noting the obvious—when and where harvest progress has taken place—and are waiting for the USDA’s capabilities for gathering and interpreting agricultural data to be restored.

Dustin Vandehoef, communications director for the Iowa Department of Agriculture, summed up last week’s harvest progress in the nation’s top corn-producing and second-largest soybean producing state: “Some good progress was made early in the week but then storms came in Thursday and Friday and over the weekend” and harvest had to stop. Anything more detailed than that would have to wait until the USDA was again collecting information, he said.

An employee at the Illinois Department of Agriculture said enumeration of the corn and soybean harvests west and northwest of Springfield, Ill., was completed last week but that detailed crop data won’t be available until the shutdown of the government ends.

“When the feds shut down, our enumerators stopped collecting information,” the Illinois source said, adding that the state may not be able to get timely information about harvest progress and crop conditions for up to a week after the USDA was up and running.

“Even after they turn their servers back on, it could take up to a week before everything was operating.”

During the data limbo currently being experienced by state agriculture departments, nature has not always cooperated with assessing how the harvest is progressing. In Nebraska, where hefty corn and soybean crops are in the early stages of harvest, weather extremes in growing areas were seen as likely sources of delays last week.

The corn and soybean harvests are “so far so good” in much of the state, but Wayne, Neb., in the northeast part of the state, was hit with an F4 tornado on Friday evening, said Christin Kamm, public information officer at the Nebraska Department of Agriculture. She said 10 houses and the airport in Wayne were destroyed and there was enough debris in fields to negatively impact the corn and soybean harvests locally. “It is very odd to have a tornado in October,” she said.

“West Nebraska has been experiencing snow,” she added. “We border South Dakota, which got 21 inches of snow in some areas. We didn’t get that much, but we got some,” she said.

The most recent crop progress report from the USDA was released Sept. 30 and covered the week ended Sept. 29. In that report, 5 percent of the corn harvest was complete in Iowa, below the 16 percent five-year average, 13 percent in Illinois, well behind the 34 percent average for the date, and 9 percent in Nebraska, down from a 16 percent average. Cool, wet growing conditions were blamed for the lagging corn harvest.
In the absence of fresh USDA information, market observers suggested the corn harvest in the 18 major states was about 25 percent complete as of Oct. 6, up from 12 percent in the same states as reported by the USDA on Sept. 30.
As of Sept. 29, the soybean harvest was 10 percent complete in Illinois, 5 percent in Iowa and 13 percent in Nebraska, all lagging five-year averages, according to the USDA. Market observers were guessing the total soybean harvest may be in the range of 20 percent to 23 percent complete in the 18 major states as of Oct. 6, up from 11 percent reported by the USDA as of Sept. 29.

The week-old USDA data pegged good-to-excellent ratings for the corn crops in Illinois at 62 percent, Iowa at 36 percent and Nebraska 64 percent. As for soybeans, Iowa was rated 35 percent good to excellent, Illinois 56 percent and Nebraska 62 percent.

Under normal circumstances, an update on crop progress would be released by the USDA at 3:00 p.m. Central Time each Monday. In its absence, the market will have to rely on imprecise information for input in the pricing of corn and soybeans for at least another week.
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