November 20, 2019 / 9:55 PM / 22 days ago

UPDATE 1-USDA expects timely release of next crop data after November gaffe

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By Karl Plume

CHICAGO, Nov 20 (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture expects a smooth release of market sensitive monthly crop data in the future after a technical outage delayed the publication of a critical crop report earlier this month, the agency’s chief economist said on Wednesday.

Some data in the USDA’s closely followed World Agriculture Supply & Demand Estimates (WASDE) report on Nov. 8 was released several minutes after its scheduled publication time after a power and network outage impacted equipment in Kansas City that loads data onto the USDA’s website.

The USDA’s monthly reports are regarded by traders as the gold standard for global crop forecasts, and the delay caused widespread anger. The data can jolt Chicago Board of Trade grain and soy futures and set price direction for crops used to produce food, biofuels and livestock.

“Going forward, we’ve identified those issues and made sure that there are redundancies in place to make sure that it doesn’t happen again,” USDA Chief Economist Robert Johansson told Reuters on the sidelines of a conference in Chicago.

“We had contracted with outside vendors to help up manage this process and it’s still unclear to me whether those safeguards had been appropriately set up for this kind of event or whether we have to change them. We’re looking at a number of different ways to prevent this from happening again.”

The equipment that failed was in use before the agency announced it was moving its Economic Research Service staff from Washington, D.C. to Kansas City. The troublesome data release on Nov. 8 was unrelated to the move, Johansson said.

The system was stress tested before the troublesome November release. The agency plans to conduct more stress tests ahead of the December report, he said.

The agency would also upgrade any equipment that is deemed insufficient to deliver the data to the public.

“We’ve got IT professionals that saw what happened and are making sure it doesn’t happen again. If it costs a lot more money, then we’ll spend it. But we’re looking at ways to optimize that spending.”

The next monthly report is due for release on Dec. 10. (Reporting by Karl Plume; Editing by Sandra Maler and Marguerita Choy)

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