Brancel: Untangling WASS, DATCP
will be difficult when agency restructures
A whole variety of Wisconsin surveys and industry information could be lost if (or more likely when) the U.S. Department of Agriculture restructures its National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS.)
That was what Wisconsin Agriculture Secretary Ben Brancel told his board members when they met in Madison last week.
The Wisconsin Agricultural Statistics Service, (WASS) which is a branch of the USDA service, produces surveys on specialty cheese, for example.
Bob Battaglia, the state statistician, told board members that Wisconsin is the only state to produce this report. (See sidebar.)
Battaglia said his staff members are also working on a new survey on the economic impact of the state's wine industry. The second draft of the questionnaire is done, he said.
There is also a questionnaire that has been developed on whey use in Wisconsin and on export marketing.
Department Secretary Ben Brancel said he's concerned that these kinds of surveys that provide unique information to state agricultural leaders and agribusiness may suffer when a USDA regionalization plan for the statistical service goes into effect.
That plan, designed to save money, will place Wisconsin's Agricultural Statistics Service in Iowa, along with several other states' groups. Earlier communication from USDA said there may be a few staffers from WASS left in Madison.
Brancel told board members that the USDA hasn't yet been to Madison to visit with him on the subject. "I don't know if it's because we have a unique relationship with WASS or because we start with the letter W" he quipped, implying that the later letters of the alphabet might be the last to get informed by the agency about how the plan will impact them.
"The number of surveys done here far surpasses all other states," Brancel said, adding that the interrelationship of the statistical service and his department is very close - the statistical service pays rent for being in the DATCP building and the department provides personnel services in the form of three employees.
"Untangling that relationship here will be much more difficult (than in other states)," Brancel told the board.
Margaret Krome, a member of the board asked Brancel if he thought it would be helpful if the board "chimed in" on the planned restructuring of NASS and its effect on the Wisconsin service and on the department.
"I would support a resolution to that effect," she said, and moved to have the board work on wording for such a resolution.
Brancel said he is lobbying with USDA on the changes. "We have very important relationships. It is a huge value that will be lost and felt.
"There's a feeling (at USDA) that surveys can be developed from afar, but we know that when we work with industries here, that's not the case," Brancel added.
He pointed to the upcoming survey on whey utilization. "That information has to be really well done if it is going to be of any value to our industry here. We need the expertise of NASS and other interactive parties to get good information so we have a basis for making progress.
"That could be lost."
Brancel told the board that he doesn't think keeping the program as it is today is an option and believes that the chosen location in Iowa for several Midwestern state offices is a done deal.
In his normal report to the board, Battaglia said that soil moisture if very good all around the state. There was some freeze damage in the central part of the state but farmers are continuing to move ahead with harvesting first crop hay and planting corn in this unusual year.
Growing degree days - the heat units that are calculated once temperatures stop falling below freezing -- are about double the normal rate, Battaglia said.
These growing degree days, also called growing degree units, are a measurement used to predict plant development to help determine when crops will reach maturity.