WASS change could leave information void in Wisconsin
Wisconsin agriculture, with its many varieties of enterprises large and small, has benefited from a relationship between the Wisconsin Agriculture Statistics Service (WASS) and the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
The survey specialists in WASS, which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, have worked on information-gathering that serves this wide variety of state farmers and specialty producers.
But all of that may be changing as part of a budget-cutting plan at USDA.
The plan to regionalize this data-gathering system will put Wisconsin's survey team in an office in Des Moines, Iowa.
Ben Brancel, Secretary at DATCP told his policy board members that "this is distressing" to Wisconsin. The board met in La Crosse on Tuesday (March 13.)
Instead of having WASS housed in an office with DATCP, most of the staff would have to move to the regional office, he said, although some enumerators may stay in Wisconsin.
The fact that the statistical service has been housed at DATCP has created synergies that have helped provide basic information to a variety of Wisconsin's agricultural businesses, Brancel said.
State Statistician Bob Battaglia told the board that his crew is working on a survey for grape growers in the state and another requested on whey markets in the state.
"We have a lot of unique surveys that get done through Bob's shop," Brancel said.
Battaglia told the board that the program's supervisors in Washington deal with big national issues and for some of these information-gathering efforts surveyors must get clearance from the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB.)
Sometimes it can take a year to get that clearance, he added.
Brancel said he wondered how Wisconsin agriculture will get the information it needs if the federal changes are made as proposed.
He plans to be in Washington in April to visit with National Agricultural Statistics Service officials about the planned changes.
In recent talks with state agriculture secretaries from around the country, Brancel said he found that Wisconsin has had a wealth of reports and surveys to serve its agricultural base.
"This change is something we really want to understand," Brancel told his board.