Cutbacks in U.S. Department of Agriculture crop estimate reports and a 10% reduction in allocations to promote fresh produce exports are two real consequence of federal sequestration cuts that kicked in March 1.
The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service said it was suspending several reports for the balance of the fiscal year because of budget cuts caused by sequestration. Among other reports cut for cattle, fish, rice, milk and other commodities, the agency announced it was suspending the monthly potato stocks report and all non-citrus fruit, nut and vegetable forecasts and estimates.
“The (potato stocks) report they eliminated was the most important report to us and it left standing reports that were less important to us,” said John Keeling, executive vice president of the National Potato Council, Washington, D.C.
Keeling said the potato industry hopes it will have a chance to give the USDA more input on how they could save money and still leave in place the potato stocks report. He said the USDA indicated industry can underwrite the cost of suspended reports if they feel the report is valuable.
“Potentially if it was a number we could live with and felt that the report was that valuable to us, we could go back in and actually pay for getting it done,” he said.
The USDA has given no cost estimates so far. Keeling said the potato council may ask about the cost of providing the potato stocks report — if for nothing else than to understand how much it costs the USDA to provide that information.
The list of suspended fruit estimates includes the July final estimate for the 2012 apple crop and the closely-watched first estimate of the 2013 apple crop, released in August. The USDA planned to eliminate that apple report last year, but relented when the industry said it would rather keep the August forecast than an October forecast.
It is possible that sequestration may be reversed by Congress and that the crop reports will be restored, said Nancy Foster, president of Vienna, Va.-based U.S. Apple Association.
“We’ve got some time on this August new crop estimate report, if they can resolve the sequestration problem,” she said. “I think that as the results of sequestration become more apparent — and I think they will — that will greatly increase the pressure for Congress to act.”
With key fruit and vegetable crop reports suspended, organizations depending on the Market Access Program to promote fresh produce exports also will have less money to work with for the balance of fiscal year 2013.