USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service is still planning to resume publishing its weekly export sales report on Sept. 15, but that report will be much larger than normal because it will contain four weeks of data that haven’t been published because of problems installing a new reporting system, according to USDA officials.
FAS on Aug. 25 produced its first U.S. Weekly Export Sales Report using a new system for collecting data, but the agency soon learned there were problems. Exporters are supposed to report sales and shipments to FAS, which in turn publishes the data every week, but the new system — which the agency had been preparing for months — failed.
In some cases, exporters had difficulty accessing the system and in other cases, FAS left test data in the new system, confusing exporters, say USDA officials who spoke to Agri-Pulse.
So, FAS recalled the weekly report it had published on Aug. 25, containing faulty data on export sales and shipments from Aug. 12-18. FAS then shut down the new data collection system and reinstated the old system, which is now back in place.
"Since the system relies on data submissions by exporters, FAS is working closely with individual exporters to ensure that past, current, and future export sales data are accurate,” said FAS Administrator Daniel Whitley. “Our staff will continue to conduct outreach and provide support to both data reporters and data users in anticipation of the re-launch of the new system.”
Exporters are again entering their data on the old system as FAS officials work with industry to make sure that they have the data that was entered into the new system, the officials said.
The next “weekly” report will be published Sept. 15 and will contain data showing export sales and U.S. shipments of corn, wheat, soybeans, sorghum, barley, pork, beef and other commodities from Aug. 12 all the way through Sept. 10.
All of this is taking time, though, and some lawmakers and farm groups are expressing frustration and concern.
Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., the top Republican on the Agriculture Committee, sent a critical letter Wednesday to Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack on the matter.
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“While I appreciate the need to modernize outdated systems, the decision was made to launch a new reporting system before properly training reporting entities and proper testing for technical glitches,” Boozman said in the letter. “As a result of what some suggest was a hurried decision to launch, U.S. and world traders are now limited in price discovery for many commodities for a duration of three weeks, notably at the beginning of the marketing year for corn and soybeans.”
The U.S. Wheat Associates also complained about the disruption, saying that it uses the data regularly to keep foreign buyers informed.
“Commercial sales as a percentage of export forecasts can help exporters and buyers understand the supply and outline the general market for a given product,” the group said.
Vilsack, speaking to reporters on the matter last week, said USDA is working to fix the problem and stressed that he appreciates “the fact that when we made the mistake, we owned up to it. Mistakes happen.”
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