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USDA: Federal cuts forcing shutdown of some reports
By STEVE BINDER
Illinois Correspondent

WASHINGTON, D.C. — USDA officials’ announcement last week that it was canceling some regular livestock, dairy and fish statistical reports was met with mixed reaction from industry representatives.
Those tuned in to dairy production say they will miss the monthly reports from the USDA data arm, the National Agricultural Statistics Services (NASS), but at least two analysts said most of the suspended reports won’t be missed much overall. One argued the reports should have been cut long ago.

“My overall opinion about most NASS reports is that it’s probably a good thing several were cut. You’ve got as good, or better, information available right through the private sector,” said Jody Lawrence, president of Franklin, Tenn.-based Strategic Trading Advisors.

“I believe that fewer reports would mean less volatility in the markets. The reports I’ve read that are eliminated are mostly reports with the least amount of information and data.”
In an email announcing the cuts, the USDA said it was cutting: all of its catfish and trout reports; all monthly milk production reports; potato stocks reports, non-citrus fruit, nut and vegetable forecasts; its June rice stocks report; hops reports; its mink report; the July acreage forecast and June stocks report for Austrian winter peas; and its July cattle report.

The July cattle report is the one Allendale, Inc. Chief Strategist Rich Nelson said he’ll miss the most.

“Granted, there’s not as much in the July report compared to the January report, but it’ll be missed. And for those who pay close to attention to dairy, that report will be missed, but I don’t see the markets being impacted by this at all,” he said.

The NASS recently went to a regional office format, creating 12 main offices and trimming the number of employees overall to about 350. It continues to employ approximately 3,000 enumerators who collect data nationally and produce about 500 reports a year. State offices also combine to release another 5,000 reports and news releases a year.

Rachael Dubinsky, a USDA spokeswoman based in Washington, D.C., said she didn’t have available the amount of money cut from the USDA’s overall budget as a result of the federal sequester cuts, which totaled $85 billion for all federal programs this year.

The USDA’s total budget for 2012 was $145 billion, with about $125 million in mandatory spending programs such as food assistance, farm commodity programs, crop insurance, export promotion and conservation programs. Statistician Mike Miller, also based in Washington, has produced the NASS’ milk reports for the past five years. He told Bloomberg News he’ll continue to help produce the NASS’ Census of Agriculture, but that the milk report he issued March 19 likely will be the last.

“I’m certainly disappointed, and I hate to see it go away. Hopefully it will be brought back, because it’s an important report,” he said, adding that “no one knows” whether the reports will be reinstated after the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

National Milk Producers Federation spokesman Chris Galen said the milk reports are valuable.

“This is going to affect how decisions are made in marketing of milk and other dairy products,” he said. “If you don’t have a national estimation of what your supply is, then it’s a lot harder to figure out where prices are going to go.”
3/20/2013