The USDA's weekly Export Sales report and weekly reports of export inspections provide timely information about export demand for U.S. agricultural commodities. The U.S. Census Bureau, however, is the official source of export estimates. The monthly Census Bureau reports are not as timely as USDA reports, but provide an opportunity to reassess export progress during the marketing year, says University of Illinois Economist Darrel Good.

"For the marketing year that began on Sept. 1, 2010, the USDA forecasts U.S. corn exports at 1.95 billion bushels, 37 million bushels less than were exported last year. Through the first 23 weeks of the marketing year (Sept. 1, 2010 through Feb. 10, 2011) the USDA's weekly export inspections report showed cumulative export inspections of 737 million bushels, 7 million more than the total of the previous year," he says.

Inspection estimates for the week ended Feb. 10 will likely be revised higher, as has been the pattern all year, so that the actual difference is likely closer to 10 million bushels, he says.

"Census Bureau estimates of exports for December 2010 were released on Feb. 11. Cumulative Census Bureau export estimates for the first four months of the marketing year exceeded inspections by 34.5 million bushels," Good says.

Last year, Census Bureau estimates for the same period exceeded inspection by 50.9 million bushels. By the end of the marketing year, Census Bureau estimates exceeded inspections by 102 million bushels, he says.

"It is typical for the difference to get larger as the marketing year progresses. If the pattern of differences this year in relation to that of last year has continued since December, actual exports through Feb. 10 were likely about equal to those of last year," he adds.

If so, exports during the last 29 weeks of the marketing year will need to be 37 million bushels less than exports of a year ago to reach the USDA projection, a difference of about 1.3 million bushels/week. As of Feb. 3, unshipped export sales exceeded those of a year ago by 21 million bushels, Good notes.

Larger outstanding sales and prospects for a further reduction in the estimated size of the Argentine crop suggest that marketing year exports will at least reach the USDA projection, he says.