USDA statistics service cancels some agriculture reports, and lawmakers push for return

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Anna Pope
Harvest Public Media

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service recently announced it is discontinuing a few market surveys due to budget cuts. Some lawmakers and industry groups have expressed concern and want the decision to be reversed.
Farmers, ranchers and agriculture groups will no longer be able to get county estimates for crops and livestock from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The department’s National Agricultural Statistics Service is stopping those estimates this production year, along with the July Cattle report and the Cotton Objective Yield Survey.
Troy Joshua, director of NASS’  Statistics Division and executive director of USDA’s Agricultural Statistics Board, said the decision was not made lightly.
Joshua said NASS received the new budget six months into the fiscal year at a level 22% lower than what was requested. That amounted to an 11% cut, or roughly $23 million below last year’s budget.
“We expected a cut, but we didn’t expect it to be that deep of a cut,” Joshua said.
Before canceling the reports, he said the department made internal adjustments, including cutting back on travel and stopping modernization projects. The county crop and livestock estimates cost about $7 million to run annually, while the cattle survey costs about $550,000.
“If we get the funding for next year, we would love to bring those projects back,” Joshua said, “because we see that those projects are very useful and beneficial to the agricultural communities.”
A bipartisan group of more than 70 federal lawmakers expressed concern in a letter sent to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack asking him to reverse the decision. They stated that the reports offer transparency and market anticipation for the whole agricultural sector.
“While we recognize that NASS has seen a modest year-over-year appropriations reduction, we hold that the costs to industry will be more adverse than the cost savings NASS may realize through cessation of these reports,” the letter stated.
Legislators requested NASS officials work with Congress and stakeholders to find other cost cutting routes and continue publishing the surveys. In the letter to Vilsack, lawmakers pointed out the division made plans to stop the July Cattle survey in 2016 but brought it back after facing opposition to the move.
How those report
s are used
Every year, the statistics service conducts about 450 surveys on 200 commodities, according to the USDA’s budget summary for the 2024 fiscal year.
Ben Brown, a University of Missouri extension economist and research analyst with the Food Policy Institute, said NASS’ information is the “gold standard” and uses it in different ways to inform their work.
He said it takes a lot of manpower and money to do the type of data collection the service provides. Meanwhile, budget cuts have been seen across USDA agencies.
“Some of the other agencies have discontinued grant opportunities that they have done with cooperators, like cooperative agreements” Brown said. “And so, costs are going up and USDA is handling that in a variety of different ways.”
The July Cattle report is the second survey published annually that describes the nation’s cattle herd. Another cattle report is published in January.
Tanner Beymer, the senior director of government affairs for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said the July Cattle report is important, because it provides an understanding of what the year’s calf metrics look like. For instance, he said right now there are fewer cattle, which is pushing prices higher.
“Our members have had about five or six years of difficulty making a profit, and so this is very welcomed,” Beymer said, “but it’s difficult for us to forecast how long that’s going to last without access to tools like these NASS reports.”
Beymer believes there are cost-cutting opportunities the statistics service did not examine thoroughly enough, including digitizing surveys.
“When you’re sending out thousands and thousands of paper surveys to farmers and ranchers, that does start to add up pretty quick,” he said. “And I think that there are some digital options they can look at; they can look at different sampling methods that can forecast that information out.”
NASS held a recent webinar to highlight other data points the service offers.
Going forward, Joshua said people can reach out to their state NASS offices or the national headquarters, and they will continue to provide quality data.
This story was produced in partnership with Harvest Public Media, a collaboration of public media newsrooms in the Midwest. It reports on food systems, agriculture and rural issues.
https://www.kcur.org/news/2024-05-16/usda-statistics-service-cancels-some-agriculture-reports-and-lawmakers-push-for-return

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