The decision to suspend agricultural labor surveys/reports for the rest of the year will save about $1.96 million or 0.008% of the $23.9 billion that President Barack Obama proposed for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in his fiscal year 2012 budget.
That savings estimate, calculated from figures from the USDA’s Office of Budget and Program Analysis, may seem insignificant to some in the labor and produce sectors when compared to the data the surveys provide.
“NASS (the National Agricultural Statistics Service of the USDA) does a very, very good job of collecting that data,” said Craig Regelbrugge, co-chair of the Agricultural Coalition for Immigration Reform, explaining that the data is crucial for figuring wage rates for H-2A temporary agricultural workers.
Regelbrugge said growers across the country likely will not have problems regarding the wage calculations until 2012 because the rates are set by the government in February or March each year.
Officials with USDA have not yet announced how the H-2A wage rates will be figured without the NASS survey data, according to Matthew Herrick, a USDA public affairs officer.
“USDA faces real and tough choices as a result of significant budget cuts,” Herrick told The Packer on May 25. “NASS, a vital part of USDA, is not immune from those tough choices. NASS will continue to work within the existing budget to provide timely, accurate and useful data in service to agriculture.”
Regelbrugge said one of his greatest fears is that the USDA will turn to the Bureau of Labor’s Occupational Employment Statistics, which he said does not collect “actual data” from growers. He said the H-2A wage calculations system hasn’t been tremendously popular with the agricultural community, but at least with the NASS survey data everyone involved knew the calculations were based on data that had real integrity.
Herrick said NASS will continue to publish several key reports, including monthly crop productions, agricultural prices, crop progress and acreage reports and other livestock related reports.
The USDA’s budget summary and Annual Performance Plan states that the 2012 budget also includes full funding for the third year of the 2012 Census of Agriculture’s five-year cycle.
The 2012 budget for NASS has a $3.4 million increase to “improve the data quality of the County Estimates program which is used within the department to administercrop insurance programs, … as well as crop revenue support programs, emergency assistance payments and the Conservation Reserve Program.”