Ag leaders voice fear that growers will lose options
By STEVE BROWN
If the USDA's top brass knew how much growers rely on information from the National Agricultural Statistics Service, they wouldn't scale back the agency, says Michael Willett of the Northwest Horticultural Council.
"We use that information every day for crate issues, pesticide use, Endangered Species Act issues," said Willett, the council's vice president for scientific affairs. "There's no area in the technical work issues that we don't use that data."
In an effort to save money, NASS plans to consolidate regional offices. The office functions for California, Oregon and Washington would be combined and located in Sacramento. The Idaho office's functions would move to Denver.
NASS would also reduce the frequency of some reports.
At the agency's office in Olympia, Wash., director Dave Knopf said he's well aware of the looming effects on growers.
"They'll have less information for them to base decisions on," he said. For example, potato stock reports had been monthly. Now they'll be released every other month.
"Some growers make marketing decisions weekly, maybe daily. If there's a gap of two months, I don't know how you can make decisions that way."
Willett said he'll deliver his concerns directly to Northwest congressional delegations asking for a halt to the changes.
Willett said he understands that things have reached a critical point in Washington, D.C.
"Everything is clouded by the incredible problem our government faces in balancing its budget," he said. "But there are certain programs there is no substitute for. There's nowhere else this information is available."
At the NASS office in Portland, Oregon director Chris Mertz said commodity groups will be asked to pay more for their surveys. Some of the surveys have been done for several years on a reimbursable, cost-share basis.
"Unfortunately there are some special projects that we won't be able to continue," he said. "We're willing to look at reworking data needs and do something that might be more affordable, like for vineyards and wineries. Other industries are not finalized. We're still looking at their options."
Knopf said chemical-use surveys have been especially valuable to the fruit industry. Surveys have been done on an alternating-year basis, with fruit one year and vegetables the next. Those won't be as frequent now. The next vegetable survey will be in 2013. The fruit survey will be in 2015 or 2016.
"When you're dealing with regulation or pesticide registration, that information is quite valuable," he said.
Willett said that without crop-protection tools some fruit growers could lose 90 to 100 percent of their crops to pests. Also export customers view those pests as threats to what they grow and could impose quarantines.
It's critical that growers know how much of a crop is being treated with a particular pesticide, Willett said. "If you can't respond when there is a concern about the safety of the food, the industry is in a world of hurt. ...
"We want to make sure these surveys continue," he said. "We want to work with NASS to improve the scope of the surveys."
2012 Guide to Products and Services: www.nass.usda.gov/
NASS will make the following changes to its in-season reporting for this year:
* Vegetables: Reduce to one in-season report
* Apple: Forecast in October only (eliminate March preliminary summary and August report)
* Apricot: Forecast in July only (eliminate June report)
* Cherry Production: Publish in June only (eliminate forecast in June Crop Production)
* Grape: Forecast in August only (eliminate July and October reports)
* Peach: Forecast in August only (eliminate May, June and July reports)
* Pear: Forecast in August only (eliminate June report)
* Pecan: Forecast in October only (eliminate December report)
* Banana revisions in May: eliminate
* Guavas in May: eliminate
* Olives in August: eliminate
* Papaya revisions in May: eliminate
* Prune forecast and revisions in June: eliminate
* Prunes and plums forecast in August: eliminate