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332804

U.S. agriculture export data snafu sends commodity traders scrambling

By P.J. Huffstutter and Karl Plume

CHICAGO, Aug 25 (Reuters) - A technical misstep over the release of weekly agricultural export sales by the U.S. government's top provider of farm data on Thursday left commodity traders scrambling and caused uncertainty in the futures markets.

The weekly export sales report published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture - long lauded as the world's "gold standard" when it comes to reporting data about all things food and farming - calculates the sales of U.S. commodity goods to international customers such as China and Mexico.

The data, which has a week-long delay, is a key indicator for traders, input suppliers and farmers as it highlights recent demand for crops such as corn, soybeans and wheat at a time of tight global supplies.

The data was set to be released at 8:30 a.m. Eastern (1230 GMT) via USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service's (FAS) website. But on Thursday morning, the report for the week ending Aug. 18 was not online. Instead, the site had a message about the agency launching a new "Export Sales Reporting Maintenance System," and several broken web links.

The USDA did not responded to multiple requests for comment on Thursday.

The agency later released by e-mail export numbers that were questioned by traders.

"When I saw there was a troubled rollout, I kind of discounted anything that came out," said Craig Turner, a grain broker with StoneX. "How much can we trust it with the issues that we had?"

For example, the USDA reported sales of soybeans from the upcoming harvest nearly four times larger than the highest pre-report analyst estimate, and net upland cotton sales totaled 1.9 million bales, up from 49,800 bales the prior week.

USDA prefaced the e-mailed report with a disclaimer saying, "There could be some anomalies in the data related to the transition" to the new system. (Additional reporting by Tom Polansek in Chicago and Seher Dareen in Bengaluru; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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