The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) plays an important role in providing timeous data on global agricultural markets, amongst other activities. One of its flagship monthly reports that many agricultural analysts (myself included) often refer to when doing market research, which has implications for global agricultural commodity prices, is the World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimate report. This report generally covers key grains, oilseeds, livestock and dairy industries.

Unfortunately, the current partial US government shutdown has affected the functions of the country’s Department of Agriculture, and thus leading to a delay in the release of World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimate report which was originally scheduled for January 11, 2019.

Here is the statement released yesterday by the USDA:

“(Washington, D.C., January 4, 2019) – Due to a lapse in federal funding, work on National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) and Office of the Chief Economist – World Agricultural Outlook Board (OCE-WAOB) reports have been suspended since December 22, 2018 and remain suspended.  Given the lead time required for the analysis and compilation of Crop Production, Crop Production-Annual, World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE), Grain Stocks, Rice Stocks, Winter Wheat and Canola Seedings, and Cotton Ginnings reports, those reports will not be released on January 11, 2019 as originally scheduled even if funding is restored before that date.  The date of all NASS and OCE-WAOB releases will be determined and made public once funding has been restored.”

From a South African perspective, I always pay particular attention to the USDA’s view of the South African grains and oilseeds production estimates (by the way, the USDA has a brilliant team of agricultural economists in the Pretoria offices, so they are close to the ground, hence I listen to what they say about our industry).

Given the erratic weather conditions in the past few months, and the fact that we will only have reliable data of area planted to grains and oilseeds from the South African government at the end of January 2019, I was eagerly waiting to see what the USDA’s estimates would be.

In December 2018, the agency estimated South Africa’s 2018/19 maize at 12.0 million tonnes, down from 13.5 million tonnes the previous season. This figure accounts for both commercial and non-commercial maize production.

I will keep a close eye on the developments in US politics and comment on matters that have an impact on the South African agricultural market.

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