Hay growers expecting to use USDA’s October Crop Production report to help shape their marketing plans will have to wait. This second estimate of U.S. hay production in 2013 is likely be delayed at least a few weeks due to the federal government shutdown.

The report, which includes estimates of state-by-state production for alfalfa and other hay, was to be released Oct. 11. But the shutdown brought furloughs to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) field personnel along with other “non-essential” federal workers. NASS employees gather report information via farmer surveys.

Hay sellers and buyers will most likely miss the October report’s estimates for hay yields and acreages in individual states, says Matt Diersen, ag economist at South Dakota State University. Many compare August and October report data to help make marketing decisions.

“There’s really no other place where people can go to get this kind of comprehensive, reliable information,” Diersen says. “Without it, assessing market conditions is difficult. As a buyer, how do you determine if you should get more hay lined up for the winter if you don’t have an idea of how much hay is out there? Or, if you’re a seller, how do you gauge whether you’d be better off selling more hay at a given price now or waiting until sometime later?  As it is now, you can only guess. And guessing can lead to mistakes.”

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How soon the report might be available once the shutdown ends is up in the air, he says. “Even if they’d bring people back tomorrow, it’s still going to take some time to collect and summarize all the information.”

If there’s a prolonged shutdown, the October hay report may not be issued at all. “Once these agencies are back to work, there’s likely to be a pretty good backlog. They may decide to issue some reports, but not others. There are only so many hours to go around. The longer this (shutdown) goes on, the more complicated everything gets.”

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