* USDA’s most crucial data untouched by cuts
* Cuts effective March 1 shave $1.9 bln from USDA budget
* Some lament the loss of midyear cattle report; others shrug
* Smaller commodities hit, from trout to winter peas (Adds reaction from milk producers, craft brewers)
By Charles Abbott
WASHINGTON, March 12 (Reuters) - Budget cuts have forced the U.S. Department of Agriculture to suspend the publication of 10 statistical reports or series, including a semiannual 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.
USDA has warned it may furlough meat inspectors for 11 or 12 days in the current fiscal year because of the cuts and that one-third of its 100,000 workers may be affected by furloughs.
Until now, though, it has not chronicled any specific impact on its production of data.
“The decision to suspend these reports ... was necessary, given the funding situation,” USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service said in a release on Tuesday. NASS said the reports were suspended through Sept. 30, the end of this fiscal year.
Jim Robb, an economist at the Livestock Marketing Information Center, a meat industry group, lamented the loss.
Last July’s herd count by USDA 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 McHenry, Illinois, said the industry would be able to cope.
“Few in the industry, besides long-term numbers crunchers, pay attention to the report. 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,” Nelson said.
Joe Ocrant, president of Oak Investment Group in Chicago, said: “In 43 years of trading I have never known the semi-annual cattle report to be a market mover and rarely is the data a shocker. I don’t think it’s going to make any difference to fundamental traders, which I am one of.”
USDA said it aimed to provide “the strongest data in service to agriculture” while complying with budget cuts.
The National Milk Producers Federation bemoaned losing a monthly production report, which it said would “detrimentally affect how decisions are made about the marketing of milk, starting at, but not ending with, the farm level.”
“We will need to have further discussions with USDA about why a major informational tool involving a major commodity is being affected this way,” said Christopher Galen, the federation’s senior vice president of communications.
Also upset was a group representing more than 2,000 craft beer brewers, which will lose all hops estimates for the rest of the fiscal year and is bracing for more volatile prices for the critical brewing ingredient.
“Without the public reporting, the growers are operating in the dark - and that has the potential to disrupt supplies,” said Chris Swersey, technical brewing projects coordinator for the Brewers Association, the largest association of U.S. brewers.
During past budget crunches, NASS said its most important data included its monthly crop report and agricultural prices report, the quarterly grains stocks report, the annual prospective plantings report issued in late March and the planted acreage report issued at the end of June. Production of those reports will continue.
The following is a list of the suspended reports:
-All catfish and trout reports including catfish feed deliveries and catfish processing;
-July cattle report;
-Potato stocks reports;
-All non-citrus fruit, nut and vegetable forecasts and estimates;
-June rice stocks report;
-All hops and hops stocks estimates;
-Milk production reports including production, disposition and income;
-June on- and off-farm stocks for Austrian winter peas, chickpeas, dry peas and lentils;
-July acreage forecasts for Austrian winter peas, dry edible peas and lentils.
For a FACTBOX on the many ways which USDA is involved in American agriculture, from planting the crops to price discovery, see (Additional reporting by Michael Hirtzer, Theopolis Waters and P. J. Huffstutter in Chicago; Editing by Ros Krasny, Kenneth Barry, Jan Paschal, David Gregorio and Bob Burgdorfer)