When the US Department of Agriculture announced that a series of key reports on farms would not be released Friday due to the partial closure of the government, the phones of the forecasting specialist of the United States cultures, Gro Intelligence, exploded.

The USDA was about to share its views on the projected size of soybean stocks in the US, among other data, following a record national crop and a trade war with China. slowed US exports.

Commodity traders, economists, grain dealers and farmers are eager to learn about crop updates as they work to project their balance sheets and make decisions about spring planting.

"We have been very busy," said Sara Menker, chief executive of Gro Intelligence, based in New York.

The closure, now in its third week, has impacted the already struggling US agricultural economy ahead of President Donald Trump's speech at the American Farm Bureau conference in Louisiana on Monday. Federal loan and agricultural aid applications were also delayed.

To fill the data gap, traders and farmers rely on private forecasters, satellite imaging companies and brokerage houses offering trade and supply analyzes. Some have looked on Twitter for information on climate change and rumors of grain exports, but say that it is difficult to replace the USDA.

"We are doing our best, we are looking for as much information as possible," said Brian Basting, an economist at Illinois-based Advance Trading broker, who provides his clients with his own estimates of the harvest and harvests.

"Everyone has their own internal numbers but the USDA is the most comprehensive data source."

Dan Henebry, a corn and soybean producer from Illinois, said that the lack of USDA data was difficult.

"You are delaying all these reports and the market has no idea where to go, aside from commercial assumptions," Henebry said.

NUMBER HUNTING

Gro Intelligence has been offering free access to its data platform since December 27, and plans to release global forecasts for supply-demand crops on Friday. The company will keep its platform open for the duration of the shutdown, Menker said.

Until now, said Menker, the site has recruited executives from the 10 largest global agribusinesses and major financial institutions with exposure to credit related to US agriculture.

The Mercaris data company has also gained new subscribers as it has become the sole source of organic commodity prices since the USDA reports ceased reporting, sales manager Alex Heilman said. The Maryland-based company provides free users with an additional pricing report until the reopening of the federal agency.

"Everyone still needs this information to create contracts, new product lines, to plant acres," said Heilman.

Farmers Business Network (FBN), which collects crop data from 7,000 US farmers, is expected to release its crop yield estimates to members on Friday. The data is not as complete as the USDA report would have been, however, said Kevin McNew, chief economist of NBF.

"Ultimately, we still need a benchmark," McNew said. "For better or worse, the USDA is the best reference we have."

Although crops do not grow in North America during the winter season, traders are still looking for up-to-date information in South America and in other parts of the world where soybeans and oysters are growing. other crops grow.

An increase in the number of private companies using satellite imagery collected by the government to track cultivated fields in recent years provides a better understanding of crop conditions around the world, even when government agencies are in the dark. The government's Landsat satellites continue to collect images of the Earth and other data.

Private companies such as Descartes Labs pay to access the data and can still view it for analysis. The company based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is among the forecasters who publish their own estimates of production based on its research and analysis of data collected by the government.

The public can normally see these images on the US Geological Survey's website, but these images are not updated during the closure, according to a notice posted on the site.

And technology can be a problem, said Steve Truitt, government programs manager at Descartes.

Data packets sometimes arrived late when shutdown, or did not arrive, Truitt said. The USDA and the Ministry of the Interior's government staff, whom Descartes usually calls, can not be joined or work without pay, which results in difficult discussions.

The closure also created uncertainty in Descartes' offices, which has had several repercussions on government contracts. Staff do not know when bills will be paid, Truitt said, nor if delivery dates have been postponed.

© 2019 Thomson / Reuters. All rights reserved.