First, the news:
NASS Reduces Agricultural Estimation Programs
Issued October 17, 2011 by the Agricultural Statistics Board of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). For more information, contact Sue duPont, 202-690-8122.
In light of funding reductions in fiscal year (FY) 2011 and the likelihood of additional reductions in FY 2012, NASS conducted deliberate reviews of all programs against mission- and user-based criteria, aimed at finding cost savings and forward-thinking business efficiencies so that key timely, accurate and useful data remains available in service to agriculture. As a result, the agency is discontinuing or reducing a wide range of agricultural survey programs. The decision to eliminate or reduce these reports was not made lightly, but it was nevertheless necessary, given the funding situation. Because of the timing of the agency’s survey work during the coming year, these decisions are necessary now. These programs are:
• Annual Reports on Farm Numbers, Land in Farms and Livestock Operations – Eliminate
• Catfish and Trout Reports – Eliminate all
• Annual Floriculture Report – Eliminate
• January Sheep and Goat Report – Eliminate
• Chemical Use Reports – Reduce frequency of commodity coverage
• July Cattle Report – Eliminate
• Distiller Co-Products for Feed Survey – Cancel
• Annual Bee and Honey Report – Eliminate
• Annual Hops Production Report – Eliminate
• Monthly Potato Stocks Report – Reduce from monthly to quarterly
• Annual Mink Report – Eliminate
• Fruit and Vegetable in-season forecast and estimates– Reduce from monthly and quarterly to annual report
• Nursery Report – Eliminate
• Rice Stocks June and September reports – Eliminate but continue January, March and August reports
Recognizing the importance of NASS’s data products and services to U.S. agriculture, NASS will make available similar data either less frequently or within the every 5-year Census of Agriculture. The next census will be conducted beginning January 2013 to reflect activities in the 2012 calendar year. A Federal Register notice announcing the program changes will be forthcoming.
And now the why-I-care part:
In the land of specialty agriculture (including production horticulture), there has not been a single applied research or extension grant proposal written that does not utilize the above reports. The first thing ANY granting agency (or anyone else one might lobby for funding or policy change) wants to know is the economic value of the commodity. But even beyond that, the value of these reports is immeasurable (though I can’t speak to the mink report). How many farms and acres are impacted by suburban sprawl? How does the U.S. stack up against the world in producing hops/trout/poinsettias? In-season forecasts for fruit and vegetables are kind of useless if they only come at the end of the year. Trends in bee numbers and honey production are critical in this era of colony collapse. The price of beer is tied to hops production (and inversely, prices). If we need to make a point about the number of workers employed by the nursery and greenhouse industry, where do we turn? The report I utilize most in teaching, research, and outreach is the Floriculture report. The 2010 report is 72 pages long and presents data on cut flowers, potted flowering plants, foliage plants, potted herbaceous perennials, annual bedding/garden plants, cut cultivated greens, propagative material and special Hawaiian crops; also quantity sold, percent of sales at wholesale, wholesale price and value of sales at wholesale for 15 program states (cut back once already from 36) and growers having $100,000 or more in sales; and finally the number of growers, growing area and operations with hired workers for growers with $10,000 or more in sales.
Yes, I know budgets are being slashed in one department after another, the USDA included. But the tiny NASS office (one field officer in each state with a handful of folks in D.C.) may be one of the most important – it’s hard to make a case if you can’t state the economic impact.