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Financial traders have been feasting on a two-second lag in the transmission of federal crop data, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture is changing the way it releases the information in an effort to “level the playing field,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said Tuesday.

For years, the USDA has given news organizations embargoed copies of market-moving reports at 10:30 a.m. Eastern time, an hour and a half earlier than the reports are released to the public.

While members of the media cannot publish any of the data until noon, when the report is released to the public, news agencies have access to high-speed fiber optic lines that are slightly faster than the speed at which the USDA uploads the information to its website. News reporters also have those 90 minutes to distill the report down to key elements for their subscribers.

“There is evidence to suggest that there is significant trading activity worth millions of dollars that occurs in the one- to two-second period immediately following 12 p.m., which could not be based on the public reading of USDA data,” the USDA said in a statement. “The inference is that private agents are paying the news agencies for faster data transmission to get a jump on the market.”

That is why the federal agency plans after Thursday to stop providing embargoed copies of crop and futures reports to news agencies. The organizations that currently receive the reports are the Associated Press, Dow Jones/Wall Street Journal, Thomson Reuters, Market News International/Deutsche Boerse, Bloomberg News, and DTN/Progressive Farmer.

“Everyone who has interest in the USDA reports should have the same access as anyone else. Modern technology and current trading tactics have made microseconds a factor,” Perdue said in a statement. “This change addresses the ‘head start’ of a few microseconds that can amount to a market advantage.”

The monthly crop production report will be released under the old rules for the last time on Thursday.

Adam Belz • 612-673-4405 Twitter: @adambelz