PIERRE, S.D. — The U.S. Agriculture Department has kept tabs for decades on a wide range of agricultural industries that generate billions of dollars for the U.S. economy. But that's about to change, as the agency eliminates some reports and reduces the frequency of others to save millions of dollars in tight budget times.
The reports influence the price and supply of many products that end up on American dinner plates. Without them, some farmers say they'll be left guessing how much to produce and when to sell. Food processors and traders also will have less information when making decisions about buying and selling.
Eliminating or reducing the frequency of 14 crop and livestock reports will save the National Agricultural Statistics Service about $10 million, spokeswoman Sue duPont said.
NASS's $156 million budget was cut in the federal fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, and more reductions are expected this year as Congress and the White House aim to trim federal spending.
The agency based its choices on the reports' impact on markets and use by other programs that provide assistance to farmers, along with the availability of information from other sources, duPont said.
"It was just tough decisions," she said.
Roger Barlow, executive vice president of Catfish Farmers of America, said the annual report on his industry tells his organization's 800 members how many millions of tons of catfish are being produced in how many acres of water, how much is being held by processors and what prices are being paid. The information determines prices and guides farmers as they decide whether to expand or cut back production, he said.
"Lots of decisions are made upon this," Barlow said. "This information is used on a daily basis."
"I guess we're just scratching a hole in our head trying to figure out how we're going to continue with what we feel is extremely important," he said.
Most of the information in the reports being cut will be included in the agricultural census, which is conducted every five years. The one released in 2013 will reflect the state of farming in 2012.
But the lack of annual reports "kind of limits what we have as far as information for making decisions on a year-to-year basis," said Shane Ellis, a livestock economist at Iowa State University.