Dairy industry representatives are relieved that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is restoring some of the key monthly milk production reports it had suspended under federal budget cuts.
Many had voiced alarm that the industry would be hurt and consumer dairy prices would rise when the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) suspended the reports last week because of sequestration cuts.
The reports are considered vital because farmers use the information to determine production, and milk processors and brokers use it to judge and set the market.
Restoring the analyses, even on the limited basis that NASS announced Wednesday, “might bring some stability to the market,” said Darin Von Ruden, a Westby organic dairy farmer who is president of the Wisconsin Farmers Union.
“There’s always the threat that a major player has a big surplus back in a warehouse at the end of the month, and it lowers prices for producers” when it goes on the market, he said.
“It’s worrisome that they say they’ll use some kind of estimator,” Von Ruden said. “Hopefully, it will be based on previous years to justify where they get the numbers.”
He was speaking of the agency’s announcement that it will estimate monthly production without taking its usual quarterly producer surveys.
A NASS spokeswoman did not return a phone call requesting comment, but the agency’s announcement said the reports through the end of its fiscal year in September also would not include cow numbers or per-cow production.
But the numbers used “will provide a consistent estimation process across all states and the nation,” according to the agency.
Von Ruden acknowledged, “It should help make production prices fairly close to being accurate.”
Mark Stephenson, director of the UW-Madison’s Center for Dairy Profitability, said it would be better to have more statistics.
“The markets would like to have more detail, but it’s better to have national data than no data at all,” he said.
It also is fortunate that NASS decided to maintain the reports for consistency, Stephenson said.
“If they would not have, dozens of others, including myself, would have,” he said.
“This is the single most important report for the dairy industry. But does it leave them blind without it? No, they can check other indicators,” such as cheese production and inventory, he said.
NASS said it is evaluating whether to restore the reports in full for its next fiscal year.