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Argentina Fails To Release March Crop Report; Critics Cry Foul
Argentina’s grain traders, exporters and farmers are left wondering how much soy is likely to come from the Pampas this season after the government failed to produce a key crop production forecast report this month.
The report, which was scheduled for release on March 18, is simply delayed, said an Agriculture Secretariat spokesman. However, local daily Clarin said Thursday that government officials had deliberately blocked release of the report. The government has steadily eliminated key agricultural reports in recent months, in a move critics say is aimed at sealing its control over the combative sector.
The government is locked in a battle with farmers over grain-export taxes. Amid ongoing talks, farmers announced a one-week strike starting last Friday and are manning sporadic roadblocks across the country.
The Agriculture Secretariat spokesman said the delay in releasing the monthly and weekly crop reports was due to a revision of the methodology for producing the report and transition after the director of the department that produces the report, Mario Camarero, was sacked last month. Camarero had headed the department for eight years.
While the delay may very well be due to disorder following the shift, many see it as a larger pattern of controlling data to manipulate markets.
“The lack of information is tremendous, and that limits the ability to make decisions, both for the big companies that are used to relying on it, and the small farmers who want to see if there’s demand for more grain or not,” said Rosario Grain Exchange analyst Lorena D’Angelo.
Panagricola S.A. Vice President Ricardo Baccarin said there is no longer any way to follow day-by-day activity. “It’s really complicated now.”
The agricultural sector has been shooting blind in recent months as the government stopped publishing other key data in a move reminiscent of alleged manipulation of the national statistics agency Indec.
Many analysts have strong doubts regarding the veracity of the government reports on inflation, industrial output and economic growth. The government has denied manipulating data, but many accuse Indec of releasing politically influenced reports that paint an unrealistically rosy portrait of the country’s economic health.
Now, the government has stopped releasing reports on grain and oilseed stocks, export commitments, wheat milling and soy crushing.
The most recent report on grain and oilseed stocks is dated Oct. 1. One has to go back to June to see the last report on export-sale commitments by destination. The latest wheat grind and soybean crush data are from September. Export sales data are published sporadically.
Analyst blame the agricultural trade office, Oncca, for shutting down the data releases, which previously were disseminated by the Agriculture Secretariat.
Last year, Oncca was given the mandate to control all farm exports as domestic grocery prices soared due to an international commodities rally. Oncca calculates domestic demand and rejects export permits when it appears that the surplus hasalready been committed for export.