By Jeff Wilson

Bridge News

CHICAGO (B)--Sloppy recording U.S. weekly grain export shipments are being blamed on the way different agencies are set up to collect and disseminate the figures. In particular, problems with the reporting of soybean loadings out of Mobile, AL, have stuck in the craw of many bullish traders.

Besides Mobile, traders are concerned about delays and inaccuracies involving interior locations.

Several million bushels of grain loaded from Mobile during the winter were reported weeks later. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is making every effort to improve the reporting problems at that location, said David Orr, director of field offices for USDA's Grain Inspection and Packers and Stockyards Administration.

Another problem in reporting has been rail cars shipped to Mexico may not show up in the week the cars are released for transit south, Orr said. USDA is not allowed to count the grain loaded in grain cars until the grain company releases them to the rail lines.

"We have reviewed the reporting procedures and reinforced to our employees the importance of timely data collection," Orr said.

Sources at both the grain inspection agency and the Foreign Agriculture Service told BridgeNews written directives had been sent to grain inspection agency field offices to improve their reporting performance.

"If the problems continue, it could impact employee performance ratings," said one grain inspection agency source.

But much of the problem in reporting export shipments is a function of how regulations are established for each agency to report export shipments on a weekly basis.

For the grain inspection agency, 20 field offices, four state departments of agriculture and 20 government agencies send weekly reports to a centralized office in Washington tabulating the number of bushels inspected for export as of midnight Thursday.

The reports are then collated Friday and a final export inspection total for each commodity is sent to the Agricultural Marketing Services for dissemination to the public at 11 a.m. ET Monday.

One grain inspection agency employee said a move several years ago to report the weekly inspections an hour earlier at the request of the Chicago Board of Trade meant the agency "runs into late-reporting problems (with) no way to check corrections until the following week."

The real problem appears to be the grain inspection agency data are collected for what has been actually inspected for export to an overseas port. Some inspections may miss this midnight deadline, but the cargoes in question still might be included in the weekly export sales and shipments report released each Thursday, USDA aides said.

More important, there are truck and rail waivers for grain leaving the U.S. for Mexico and Canada. These interior movement waivers hold down the number of bushels reported in the grain inspection agency report on Mondays but not the exporter notice provided to FAS in its report released Thursdays.

Mexico has become one of the biggest destinations for U.S. grain and soybeans in the past few years, and many of its imports come via rail rather than vessel.

Some of the biggest errors tend to occur during weeks when there are government holidays, traders and USDA sources agreed. Another problem in the reporting system is that weather can disrupt loading and lead to weekly variations between the two sets of export data.

Monday's grain inspection agency report includes any donations that are inspected for export to foreign countries. The FAS does not include donations in its weekly sales and shipments reports--an omission that has the greatest impact on wheat and soyoil.

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