Grower organizations fear loss of reliable data on acreage

By MATTHEW WEAVER

Capital Press

A National Agricultural Statistics Service proposal would consolidate many field offices and dramatically reduce the number of staff in most states.

NASS officials say the quality of its surveys would remain unchanged, but farmers say they rely on the statistics and are skeptical they can be produced using fewer people.

Dave Knopf, director of the Washington NASS office in Olympia, said the proposal would reduce the overall number of field offices from 46 to nine, which would serve all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

Under the proposal, the Washington office's functions would be combined with California and Oregon and located in Sacramento. The Idaho office's functions would move to Denver.

The proposal calls for a state director to remain in each state, Knopf said, so he and perhaps a second employee would remain in Washington. The number of other employees that would remain in Washington hasn't been confirmed, he said.

Glen Squires, vice president of the Washington Grain Commission, said the commission uses NASS data "extensively" for wheat and barley variety surveys and marketing.

"If the number of surveys and the timeliness of the information changes, there obviously would be an impact," he said, adding that he wants more information on the scope of the reductions.

The Washington Association of Wheat Growers last week passed a resolution opposing the proposed reorganization because it would reduce service to growers, Squires said.

"The growers are obviously concerned about that," he said. "We just don't know exactly what it means yet because they haven't determined what those costs are or what surveys they won't do."

Vince Matthews, director of the Idaho NASS office in Boise, said that under the proposal, the number of his employees would drop from 11 to 2. That includes Matthews' position and someone who would work with field enumerators, he said.

Sampling would continue in the same fashion, just from a different location, he said.

The proposal calls for reducing the overall number of people, Knopf said.

"We think with the changes that have been made, are being made and perhaps this proposal, we can do the same amount of work with fewer people," he said.

NASS spokesperson Sue duPont said nothing has been finalized and declined to comment further.

Matthews and Knopf said the top priority is to ensure NASS continues to serve agriculture.

"We definitely want to continue to provide the data agriculture needs," Knopf said. "We just need to do it in a more efficient manner."

Knopf doesn't foresee any noticeable effect on the industry under the proposal. NASS will offer the same programs it currently does, just in a different manner, he said.

"Instead of being somewhat more local to the scene, we would just do it from a remote location," he said.

It's not known when a final decision will be made on the proposal, Knopf and Matthews said.

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