Loss of NASS dairy reports
concerns farmers, organizations
The decision at the National Agricultural Statistic Service (NASS) to suspend monthly milk production reports for the rest of the fiscal year 2013 hits Wisconsin harder than many states.
Greg Bussler, the new Wisconsin Agricultural Statistician discussed the importance of the reports with members of the policy board for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection on Friday (March 22) when the board met in Madison
Bussler takes the place of long-time state statistician Bob Battaglia, who was asked to take a job in the agency in Washington, DC and will move in May.
The restructuring of NASS, and Battaglia's move, were part of an earlier budget-cutting program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which consolidates state ag statistics services into regional offices.
The regional office that includes Wisconsin is in Iowa.
The more recent NASS report cuts were brought on by the across-the-board sequester cuts imposed when Congress failed to arrive at a budget solution.
Bussler said the monthly milk report isn't the only one that is of importance to Wisconsin. Also suspended were a mink pelt report and cranberry forecast. There will also be no early forecast reports for apples or tart cherries or for sweet corn, onions, snap beans or potatoes.
All of those crops are important to state agriculture, he said. In cranberries and mink, Wisconsin is the nation's top producer.
The value of mink pelts was over $99 million in Wisconsin in 2011, he said.
State agriculture secretary Ben Brancel said he and his staff have discussed the loss of these reports and "some will have a significant effect on us."
Some of the reports might be consolidated into monthly reports, but that remains to be seen. Brancel said there's no question that the large staff of statistical workers who were housed in his department will soon be gone.
"We will retain the two individuals in our office that we pay for. They aren't going to move them because I pay for them," Brancel told the board.
Meetings are also planned with producers and processors to see if they have ideas on how some of this information could be generated in another way.
Loss of the monthly milk production reports has gotten the most attention. Brancel said not having that information can affect farmers and processors. He is concerned that several large dairy businesses - Organic Valley and Foremost Farms - are domiciled in Wisconsin.
These businesses, and their forward-contracting protections, could be affected by the loss of these reports.
"I'm concerned about how they might be impacted by the non-availability of these monthly reports," he said.
Board member John Koepke, a dairy farmer, said he was disappointed this report was disappearing. "As a dairy farmer who has used futures markets for years it's kind of alarming to see one of the more utilized, consistent pieces of information disappear.
"I don't know what we have out there in the private sector to replace it."
Koepke commented that it's not uncommon to see dairy futures prices swing the day after that monthly report comes out. "Going to a quarterly report could mike life very interesting."
Brancel said there is some discussion ongoing about the major dairy states, including Wisconsin, coming up with some kind of survey that could potentially provide some of the lost information.
It would be even easier, he said, to produce data for crops like cranberries and mink because Wisconsin is such a huge player in those commodities. "For mink we could pretty much capture the national data here in Wisconsin," he said.
Koepke said that even though the NASS dairy numbers weren't always the most accurate, he always thought that it must be one of the easier reports for USDA to produce.
"We don't have a private entity that's set up to take USDA's place on this," he added.
If one or another of the private processor groups or cooperatives did this kind of report privately, Koepke said there would be questions about manipulation. "Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) just settled a pretty significant lawsuit over alleged price fixing," he noted.
"USDA doesn't have a perfect system but I don't think we have anybody to take its place," Koepke added.
Board member Mark Schleitwiler, who is a vice president with Bel Gioioso Cheese in Green Bay, said the loss of the monthly USDA reports will be serious for the industry.
"This milk production report has been a valuable tool," he said, adding that any kind of privately generated report could be problematic. "On the private side there's a reluctance to provide data because we feel it would be tipping our hand."
Bussler told Wisconsin State Farmer that at one time there were 24 statisticians and staff working in the Wisconsin MASS office. In recent years the USDA offered employee buyouts and many took them. Currently, the staff in the office numbers 11 people.
With the move to regional offices, several of the current staff members will move to Iowa. Two federal employees will stay in the Madison office along with two state-paid employees and a half-time support staff person, he said.
The regional change also means that state reports will be managed through big regional processing centers; many of Wisconsin's reports will be handled through St. Louis, Bussler said.
Rather than being handled out of Madison, phone calls to farmers for survey information will be made from regional calling centers. Farmers in Wisconsin may get calls from Arkansas or St. Louis and may be more reluctant to take those calls if they see they are from another state.
National groups have weighed in on the loss of the dairy reports. National Milk Producers Federation said that the loss of the dairy reports for the rest of fiscal 2013 will impair decision-making in the dairy industry.
In addition to the loss of the monthly milk production report for April through September, the USDA also announced it would suspend the Milk Production, Disposition and Income (Milk PDI) reports previously scheduled for release next month.
Jerry Kozak, President and CEO of NMPF said that, "Eliminating the USDA's monthly milk production report through September will detrimentally affect how decisions are made about the marketing of milk, starting at, but not ending with, the farm level."
The report, he added, is important for ongoing industry outlook purposes, and it's also essential for estimating the monthly commercial disappearance of all dairy products.
Kozak said that though the USDA was suspending other NASS reports, dairy is the only major commodity that will be substantially affected.
"The July cattle report consists of a mid-year update of the January cattle report, which is obviously not affected by the current fiscal year suspension, and other NASS reports will continue to report non-dairy cattle inventory information," he said.
"This decision is a concern to NMPF as well as to the entire dairy industry, and we will need to have further discussions with USDA about why an extremely important informational tool involving a major commodity is being affected this way."