WASHINGTON, March 21, 2012- Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) said she plans to propose an amendment to the agriculture appropriations bill that would reduce some funding for USDA data collection during today’s hearing hosted by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture. Her efforts would address what she believes to be a redundant collection of data from the Farm Service Agency (FSA), the Risk Management Agency (RMA) and the National Agricultural Statistics Survey (NASS).
“I’m trying to consolidate the collection of agricultural statistics in way that’s efficient and meaningful,” Lummis told NASS Administrator Cynthia Clark. “I don’t want there to be unintended consequences of what I’m trying to accomplish. I need your superior knowledge on this subject so I don’t mess this up.”
Clark noted the various agencies within USDA need information for different times or reasons, including the data NASS uses for in-season forecasts that are important for the market. However, she said the agencies are working on consolidating efforts to make it simpler for ranchers and farmers to report their acreage and yield data.
The House Appropriations Committee hosted the hearing Wednesday morning over the Research, Education and Economics mission area of USDA. Research is one of the few areas that received an increase in funding under the Obama Administration’s 2013 budget proposal. Clark testified alongside the USDA Research, Education, and Economics Under Secretary Catherine Woteki, who said investment in science for sustainable agricultural intensification is the only way to meet the demands of a world population reaching 9 billion people in 2050. Woteki said one major priority of the agency’s research programs is bioenergy, particularly on feedstocks development and the improvement of plant-based materials for feedstocks.
USDA’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2013 includes $2.6 billion for the entire Research, Education and Economics mission area, an increase of $65 million from last year.
Woteki said the mission area’s cost-saving measures include a 20 percent reduction in travel on the administrative side and the elimination of some Economic Research Service (ERS) programs.
Despite the need to cut government spending overall, Subcommittee Chairman Jack Kingston, R-Ga., said “like many of my colleagues on this subcommittee, I strongly support agricultural research.”
Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) emphasized the need for USDA to promote the benefits of agricultural research, which include a $20 return on every dollar spent in benefits to the economy.
Kingston and Rep. Alan Nunnelee, R-Miss., criticized the ERS food desert locator program, pointing out that their own suburban neighborhoods are classified as “food deserts,” even though residents do not face difficulty getting to grocery stores. Kingston said the government “loses credibility” with the public when it sees those results.
“I hear ‘food desert’ and I dismiss it based on my experience,” Nunnelee said.
ERS Administrator Mary Bohman said the food desert research, initiated in the 2008 Farm Bill, is based on national average population data, making it difficult for the definition to capture every region correctly for all residents. She added that ERS hopes to improve the science behind the data collection and also focus on key issues such as vehicle access and transportation.
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