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Farm groups to watch grain trade as USDA goes 'live'

By Tom Polansek

CHICAGO (Reuters) - If grain markets go "haywire" following the government's latest crop report on Tuesday, some agricultural industry heavyweights might call Congress before they call their brokers.

Major farm groups will scrutinize every tic of corn, wheat and soybean prices after the Department of Agriculture's all-important monthly report comes out at 7:30 Central time (0830 EST) -- the first time ever it is released during active Chicago futures trading hours.

The trading activity, whether it is volatile or placid, will help determine what recommendations the country's biggest agricultural lobby groups submit to the USDA regarding the timing of future reports.

"If the markets go haywire and volatility is off the charts," the American Farm Bureau Federation will consider asking members of Congress to get involved in determining when USDA should issue its reports, said Kelli Ludlum, director of Congressional relations for the Farm Bureau.

"I think there are going to be at least some hiccups," she said. "The question is how severe will they be. Hopefully it's not a train wreck.

The dawn of nearly round-the-clock trading has pulled the world's preeminent grains contracts into the modern era and shaken the culture of traditional pit trading at the Chicago Board of Trade and its counterparts in Kansas City and Minneapolis.

The USDA is collecting feedback on when to release crop reports because last month, the CME Group's Chicago Board of Trade, which dominates agricultural markets, and rival IntercontinentalExchange expanded the trading day.

The Farm Bureau, National Farmers Union, and National Grain and Feed Association said they will consider Tuesday's trading when formulating their responses.

MAN VS MACHINE

Anxiety over changing dynamics around the global grain market's most important set of official data is fueled by fears that farmers and traders may be caught in a maelstrom of high-frequency trading in the milliseconds following the reports, as high-tech traders and big hedge funds crunch thousands of data points far faster than any human can.

Previously, traders had two hours to digest the reports.

Ludlum said that if volatility does not increase significantly, the Farm Bureau prefers to figure out report times with the exchanges and USDA, not with lawmakers.

Even a muted market reaction to Tuesday's data would not allay concerns at the Farmers Union, said President Roger Johnson, a third-generation family farmer from Turtle Lake, N.D.

This month's report may be bad indicator of future activity, with few traders expecting significant adjustments in the USDA's estimates for U.S. ending stocks for corn, soybeans and wheat or for winter wheat production in the United States this year.

"It may be a fairly benign report that's entirely within trade expectations and the next one may be way outside of the bounds of trade expectations," Johnson said.

The National Grain and Feed Association and others have pushed the exchanges to halt trading for USDA reports.

Yet, it "is clear the markets are going to open" when the reports are released, the USDA's chief economist said last week. He said the reports will likely be issued later in the day, when higher volume can help minimize the impact of new data on the markets.

(Reporting By Tom Polansek; Editing by David Gregorio)

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