USDA to review quarterly U.S. grain stocks report methodology

By Julie Ingwersen

CHICAGO, April 14 (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s statistics division is conducting a “deep dive” review of how it conducts its quarterly U.S. grain stocks reports, an official said during an online conference on Wednesday.

The quarterly reports are among the most market-sensitive releases from the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. The stocks figures, detailing the amount of major crops held on and off U.S. farms, are based on surveys of about 8,400 commercial grain facilities and roughly 80,000 farmers. The United States is the world’s biggest supplier of corn and a top exporter of soy and wheat.

“We certainly look at these programs each and every year, but this is a deeper dive that we will be doing this year,” Lance Honig, chief of the agency’s crops branch, said in an online meeting for USDA data users.

A team has been assigned to review the sampling methods and questionnaires that USDA uses to collect the data as well as how the agency processes the information, Honig said. The team’s findings and recommendations are expected by Sept. 30 and any changes would go into effect after Oct. 1, he said.

The stocks reports have a history of jolting futures markets. Chicago Board of Trade corn futures soared 5% on Jan. 12 after the USDA’s report of Dec. 1 corn stocks fell below trade expectations and included a significant downward revision for stocks as of Sept. 1.

Honig acknowledged that recent quarterly grain reports have included some unusually large revisions.

“The fact of the matter is, the previous quarter was always open to revision,” Honig said, noting that stocks revisions are often due to updated or late-reported data on supply or usage.

The American Farm Bureau Federation in January said farmers’ confidence in the USDA’s reports had faded, and it called on the government to modernize its technology and improve transparency. (Reporting by Julie Ingwersen. Editing by Sam Holmes.)

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