The U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed widespread market rumors that China was actively buying U.S. corn while USDA’s reporting systems were down due to a government shutdown, taking advantage of the lowest prices in three years. Further confirmation of what was believed to be more than 1 million tons in purchases this month is expected in the next report.

“Corn and meal sales were phenomenal and certainly a plus for global feed demand… this is the big story for today,” said Sterling Smith, futures specialist for Citigroup.

Corn sales in the week ended Oct. 3 hit the highest point in nearly three months as a likely record-large U.S. harvest dragged down prices while soymeal sales were the largest since at least 1990, USDA data showed.

But the weekly figures, part of USDA’s catch-up effort following a 16-day partial U.S. government shutdown that suspended the agency’s data gathering, may be inflated by the inclusion of sales from subsequent weeks, a USDA official said.

USDA has now released the first two export sales reports delayed by the shutdown. Next Thursday, USDA will release export data for the three weeks ending Oct. 10, Oct. 17 and Oct 24.

For the week ended Oct. 3, USDA said a net 1,341,400 tons of U.S. corn were sold for export, above estimates for 650,000 to 850,000 tons.

Corn sales of 428,100 tons were made to unknown destinations and 230,600 tons were reported sold to China. Japan, Colombia and Mexico accounted for the lion’s share of the balance of the export sales.

“The corn sales confirmed that U.S. corn exports did get competitive with the rest of the world for a period and many countries, including China, took advantage of that,” said Terry Reilly, senior commodity analyst with Futures International.

Lofty domestic corn prices in China bolstered demand for U.S. supplies and some private trade sources have said total purchases by the world’s No. 3 corn importer topped 1 million tons this month.

Benchmark U.S. corn futures on the Chicago Board of Trade hit a low of $4.35 per bushel during that week, eventually sinking to $4.32 by mid month, the lowest since Sept. 2010.

Huge Soymeal Sales

Net export sales of soymeal for the current 2013/14 marketing year that began on Oct. 1 totaled 850,100 tons and 383,000 tons of that total were earmarked for unknown destinations.

USDA also reported a 37,700-ton net reduction in sales for the 2012/13 marketing year and a very small sale for the distant 2014/15 season.

Trade estimates for soymeal sales were only 150,000 to 250,000 tons.

The large “unknown” destination was believed by many traders to be the European Union, a major meal importer that may have had difficulty sourcing large volumes from Argentina, the world’s top soy product exporter.

“The EU has been buying more meal and perhaps they put some U.S. meal on the books because Argentina wasn’t crushing beans at the rate that had been expected or selling as much meal,” said Anne Frick, oilseeds analyst with Jefferies Bache.

The USDA also said accumulated soymeal exports for the 2012/13 marketing year that ended at the end of September totaled 9,712,300 tons, up 14 percent from the previous marketing year (2011/12).

Net exports of soybeans at 929,700 tons for 2013/14 were within trade estimates of 850,000 to 1,050,000 tons. USDA said 242,300 tons were sold to China and 122,400 tons were sold to an unknown destination.

USDA Revisions Possible

USDA will issue incomplete export sales data for the weeks ended Oct. 10 and Oct. 17 by the end of this week and then release an official tally of sales for the Oct. 4-24 period next Thursday.

Some analysts and traders questioned whether some of the sales from that period may have already been reported.

“It’s possible that some of the sales from other weeks of the shutdown period made their way into today’s numbers,” said Pete Burr, chief of the export sales reporting branch of USDA’s Foreign Agriculture Service.

USDA may revise the data at some point if it is discovered to be incorrectly reported, he said.

“Because we were shut down and the reporting system was shut down, it did confuse a lot of folks ... Our data is only as good as what’s being reported to us.” (Reuters)