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USDA Extends Deadline for Farm Aid to Feb. 14 After Shutdown

By Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON, Jan 28 (Reuters) - U.S. farmers now have until Feb. 14 to apply for federal aid designed to offset the impact of retaliatory Chinese tariffs on American crops, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said on Monday, after delays caused by the month-long government shutdown.

The previous deadline for the aid program, officially known as the Market Facilitation Program (MFP), was Jan. 15. But a partial 35-day government shutdown that ended last Friday had delayed the application and payment processes for the aid.

"If you are a farmer or rancher whose commodities have been directly impacted by tariffs, you now have until February 14 to submit your application," USDA said in a tweet.

The Trump administration last year pledged up to $12 billion in aid to help offset some of the losses for crops hit by retaliatory Chinese tariffs imposed in response to Washington's tariffs on Chinese goods.

A USDA spokesperson on Monday said the department has as of Monday paid out a total of $5.94 billion to farmers in trade aid, with the top five commodities that received aid being soybeans, corn, wheat, dairy and sorghum.

The top five states that received aid were listed as Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota and Nebraska.

China had zeroed in on U.S. farmers with tariffs after President Donald Trump imposed duties on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods last year as part of his vow to cut the U.S. trade deficit with China.

Beijing slapped a 25 percent tariff on U.S. soybeans in retaliation. That effectively shut down U.S. soybean exports to China, worth around $12 billion last year.

With China typically taking around 60 percent of U.S. supplies, the loss of that export market has left farmers struggling with a supply overhang.

Separately, the USDA will release several key grain reports on Feb. 8 including quarterly U.S. grain stocks, winter wheat seedings and a final report on 2018 crop production, the department's chief economist told Reuters via email on Monday.

The reports, which were delayed by the partial U.S. government shutdown that ended on Friday, were originally scheduled for release on Jan. 11. The USDA also plans to release a monthly crop supply/demand report on Feb. 8.

Traders are also awaiting data on U.S. export sales of grain, beef and pork, which the USDA reports on weekly. Those weekly reports were suspended during the government shutdown.

Traders are also keen to see backlogged weekly Commitments of Traders reports from the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the main futures regulator. This data offers a look at whether speculators and hedgers hold net long or net short positions in various derivatives, including CBOT grain and oilseed futures. Also pending are monthly USDA updates on winter wheat condition ratings for key states in the southern Plains and Midwest.

(Additional reporting by Julie Ingwersen in Chicago, Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Richard Chang and Diane Craft)

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