The U.S. government canceled its monthly report on grain and cotton production on Thursday for the first time since reporting began in 1866 and said it will not estimate U.S. or world crop production until early November.
Cancellation of the October report means the first harvest-time estimate of U.S. crops will be Nov. 8. The production report and companion data on crops worldwide are the U.S. Agriculture Department's premiere reports.
They attract a worldwide audience and frequently move commodity prices - and with the gap of an additional month, potentially more so than usual.
The widely followed USDA reports were the biggest immediate casualties of the 17-day government shutdown. Officials were also deciding on Thursday whether to issue an overdue report on the U.S. inflation rate.
"It's a great shame. We lose the continuity of the series, the course correction that it provides," said Bill Nelson, analyst with Doane Advisory Services in St. Louis.
With the cancellation, the November report will be USDA's first harvest-time estimate of U.S. crops. By November, the corn and soybean harvests are usually in the final stretch and cotton is half harvested.
Users of corn and soybeans - from food companies to exporters - will be counting every bushel to determine if supplies recover after three years of declining production. As a result, markets have been highly sensitive to the USDA estimates.
"There is always the potential for a shock in each monthly report so I'd suggest there are twice the chances that we'll get a shock this time, or that the shock will be twice what it ordinarily would be," said a futures broker.
USDA's previous crop estimate was issued on Sept 12. It also on Thursday canceled or postponed a range of reports because it could not gather data during the shutdown due to lack of funding.
GOOD TO BE BACK
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack greeted employees as they returned to the USDA complex on the national Mall. "Good to have you back," he said repeatedly, shaking hands with workers.
"We have never missed a report in the past," said a USDA spokesman, who said the cancellation of the crop report was "the first time ever."
USDA began crop reports in 1866, covering cotton and tobacco, a year after the end of the American Civil War.
The last time USDA delayed its premiere reports was September 2001, when they were held up for two days in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
Besides the crop report and the companion World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report, USDA said it canceled two weekly reports on crop conditions. It said a monthly Cattle on Feed report, due on Friday, would be postponed, along with a report on peanut prices.