Several growers were critical of statisticians with USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service when in August the agency estimated Idaho's 2009 alfalfa production would be 5 percent above 2008.

Buhl, Idaho, alfalfa grower Mike Larson is still critical, even though the October estimate puts numbers back in line with what growers are showing.

"The problem I see is credibility. ... They don't have that," he said.

"Back in August, they said we were going to increase acreage by 10,000 acres, which most people disputed. And yield was going to be 4.6 ton (per acre), which people also disputed. They said there'd be 272,000 more tons of hay in the state, which everyone disputed," he said.

"Now they come out and say only 4.1 ton (per acre) and we're going to be short 298,000 ton from last year," he said.

The October estimate is down 570,000 tons from the August estimate, and that's a lot of hay, he said.

"I don't think people put much stock in their numbers," Larson said.

Still, those estimates can have a definite effect on price, he added.

NASS statistician Brad Early, in Boise, said production reports are based on monthly ag yield surveys, followed up by phone calls to producers who didn't respond.

Those yield surveys go out to about 800 producers, not all of whom are alfalfa growers.

"Our goal is to get an 80 percent response rate, and we usually achieve that. That's how we're evaluated," he said.

"We don't make up any numbers. We get the data from producers themselves," he said. "We try to be as accurate as possible ... but there are budgetary limitations and time constraints."

Early wasn't involved in the alfalfa data and said he doesn't know why the August survey indicated higher yield than the October survey.

Larson said he hasn't talked with any alfalfa grower who was contacted for the August report and he received the survey for the October report on Oct. 9, the day the estimate was issued.

"I don't know how they can send them out late and estimate it early," he said.

Early said he suspects the survey Larson recently received is for the agency's annual county estimates.

"I would almost put money on it," he said.

The survey for the alfalfa production report went out about Sept. 25. It's possible that Larson did receive the alfalfa survey late, but that would certainly be a matter of it getting lost in the mail, Early said.

-- Carol Ryan Dumas

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