U.S. budget axe fells data from cattle to spuds, milk to veggies

Reuters / Budget cuts have forced the USDA to suspend the publication of 10 statistical reports or series, including a semi-annual cattle inventory and monthly milk production data, for the rest of the fiscal year.

The mid-year cattle report was arguably the most prominent report to get the axe, and reaction from livestock traders and groups ranged from concern to indifference.

Others, from milk producers to craft beer brewers, expressed worry about losing key information that is often used to guide business decisions, to help make a case for bank loans and for a variety of other purposes.

Some $1.9 billion in USDA funding was eliminated by the automatic cuts, known as sequestration, which took effect on March 1.

Jim Robb, an economist at the Livestock Marketing Information Center, a meat industry group, lamented the loss.

He cited last July’s herd count by USDA, which showed ranchers had abruptly reversed plans to produce more beef, he said.

“If we don’t have that timely mid-year look, you really have a hard time looking at the industry in very much detail,” said Robb.

But Rich Nelson, chief strategist with Allendale Inc. in Illinois, said the industry would cope.

“Few in the industry, besides long-term number crunchers, pay attention to the report,” he said. “Also, the July report is not really the one that shows the full range of information that we look at. In general, we can kind of deduce these numbers without the July survey.”

In addition to cattle, the USDA is suspending reports on milk, potatoes, veggies, nuts and non-citrus fruit, and pulses.

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