* October is half over, field surveys to start soon for November report
* Crop report needs nearly three weeks of preparation
* Last significant delay in reports followed Sept. 11, 2001, attacks
* Decision by USDA expected by end of this week (Adds officials' comments, background)
By Charles Abbott
WASHINGTON, Oct 16 The U.S. Agriculture Department will decide by the end of this week whether to cancel its monthly U.S. crop production report and a companion report on crop output and usage around the world, a senior official said on Wednesday.
The reports, scheduled for Oct. 11, were delayed by the partial federal government shutdown, which has sidelined thousands of USDA employees. The next edition is set for Nov. 8, slightly more than three weeks from now.
USDA ordinarily spends nearly three weeks gathering and analyzing crop data for the widely monitored and often market-moving reports.
"We're having those discussions right now. No decision yet," said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity. He said a decision was expected by the end of the week.
A USDA spokeswoman said, "We will not have anything on this today but should have more tomorrow."
Among the questions under review is whether to issue the World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report for October even if it is impossible to produce the crop report. Still, a key element for WASDE are up-to-date estimates of U.S. crops.
USDA has produced the monthly reports for decades. The last significant delay in issuing them was in September 2001, when they were delayed by two days in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, according to the recollections of two USDA officials.
The government shutdown, which started on Oct. 1, came midway through USDA's two-week period of surveying roughly 14,000 farmers and spot-checking yields on thousands of plots of corn, soybeans, cotton and other crops identified for visits throughout the growing season.
The report is normally released to the public three or four working days after the surveying is over.
Crop data gathered in late September, before the shutdown, could be out of date by now, so USDA would have to decide whether to start over on the survey work for the crop report.
Crop enumerators ordinarily begin gathering information for the upcoming report in the final week of each month.
Before it was delayed, the October crop report was expected to carry greater weight than usual because it would offer the first estimate of crop size with the harvest in full swing.
Corn and soybean crops, the most widely planted U.S. crops and each worth billions of dollars, matured later than usual this fall because of a cold and wet spring that slowed planting.
A survey by Reuters ahead of the report's scheduled release showed analysts, on average, expected a corn crop of 13.802 billion bushels, down marginally from USDA's September forecast of 13.843 billion. The soybean crop was estimated by analysts an 3.156 billion bushels, versus USDA's 3.149 billion. (Reporting by Charles Abbott; Editing by Ros Krasny, Gerald E. McCormick and Chizu Nomiyama)