(UPDATED COVERAGE, Jan. 11) The closely-watched August apple crop estimate from the U.S. Department of Agriculture might not be issued this year.

As of Jan. 10, the apple report, the first forecast of the season and for decades the basis of the U.S. apple industry’s projections about crop size, was not scheduled for release this year.

Alex Minchenkov, spokesman for the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, said the report will not be issued because of budget cutbacks during fiscal year 2012 and related efforts to streamline crop reporting efforts. The USDA’s October update, will still be released, he said.

NASS officials, however, are in discussons about “what changes can be made to the NASS apple program so an apple production forecast can be included in the August Crop Production Report,” Joe Prusacki, director the the agency’s statistics division, said Jan. 10.

Minchenkov said because the budget for fiscal year 2012 has been finalized, it would be difficult to reverse course and retain the August apple estimate. However, he said the report could be reinstated in future years.

Industry leaders were working to reverse the decision, which they said they became aware of in early January.

In a Jan. 6 letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Nancy Foster, president of the Vienna, Va.-based apple association, said the industry was “greatly surprised” by the agency’s elimination of the August forecast.

“USDA’s August apple crop estimate is a critically needed tool for growers, packer-shippers, marketers and exporters in developing marketing plans for the highly competitive domestic and export markets,” she said in the letter.

Foster said in the letter the loss of the August crop data could harm the apple industry.

“We urge you, in the strongest terms, to reinstate the August estimate,” Foster said in the letter.

Foster said Jan. 9 that earlier communications from the agency about crop report cutbacks did not specifically target the August estimate, but follow-up in early January confirmed the August report had been axed.

“We were shocked; we thought it was fine,” Foster said.

Mark Seetin, director of regulatory and industry affairs for the apple association, said USDA officials have questioned U.S. Apple about whether the August or the October forecast was most valuable, but Seetin said both are needed. He said the October estimate typically is a more precise accounting of the crop and is used by U.S. Apple for assessing membership dues.

John Rice, vice president of Gardners, Pa.-based Rice Fruit Co., said he had only heard of the elimination of the August report the morning of Jan. 9.

“I hope they get it resolved in our favor because I’m quite accustomed to using the Aug. 1 USDA estimate of the apple crop as a starting point to develop our best estimate of the crop at the Chicago (U.S. Apple) conference,” Rice said. “There is a lot of respect for the USDA estimate and without the USDA estimate we would be at a bit of a loss at where the crop is going to come out.”