Vital Statistics: MSU, MDA and USDA Team up to Keep Michigan Agricultural Data Available

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To ensure that Michigan’s agricultural sector continues to receive data critical to remaining competitive and profitable, Michigan State University, the Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) teamed up to keep key agricultural statistical services from being eliminated as state budget dollars for such activities dwindle.

This year, with funding for only one statistician and several projects on the front burner, the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station (MAES) and Michigan State University Extension (MSUE) forged a cooperative agreement with the MDA and NASS to fund the state statistician position within the USDA-NASS Michigan field office.

“The data provided by this position is essential to our research and outreach efforts,” said Doug Buhler, associate dean of the MSU College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and associate director of the MAES. “We have a number of researchers who heavily rely on the agricultural statistician’s work, so we’re committed to collaborating with the MDA to make sure that this position continues and that a long-term, stable funding source for the program is established.”

The field office—which is also a part of the executive division within the MDA—collects, verifies and analyzes data used to prepare Michigan statistical estimates. Program services include rotational surveys on Michigan’s specialty commodities, collection and compilation of county data, special data compilations related to state legislative districts and compilation of the annual Agricultural Statistics Bulletin.

“The MDA is fortunate to have strong partnerships with NASS, MSU, Farm Bureau and others, especially during these challenging financial times,” said MDA director Don Koivisto. “This collaborative, innovative agreement allows the Michigan field office to continue to provide valuable agricultural statistical information that underscores the important contribution of the agriculture industry to Michigan’s economy.”

“The services provided by this position are too important to lose,” said Steve Hanson, chairperson of the MSU Department of Agriculture, Food and Resource Economics. “Economic analyses of government policy changes, new technologies, markets, growth and future opportunities depend on this data. Mitigation, prevention, and disaster preparedness and response protocols for plant infestations and animal diseases also rely on accessing immediate and accurate information. Even the grant funds we receive depend on our ability to provide and access quality data.”

Both the MAES and MSUE use the producer database maintained by NASS several times a year to conduct specialty commodity surveys.

“If the statistician position is eliminated, our ability to select quality samples is greatly diminished,” said Steve Lovejoy, MSUE associate director for programs. “It’s important to keep this database and other key statistical information current and available, especially in Michigan, where much of the data reflects the diversity of a cropping system that is second only to California in the number of commodities produced.

“Although there may not be a noticeable impact initially if this position wasn’t funded,” Lovejoy continued, “five years down the road, some commodity group will ask, ‘Where is this information?’ and, at that point, it will be gone forever. That’s what we want to avoid.”

“Agricultural statistics have been gathered in Michigan since 1886 and are the only source for up-to-date, comprehensive and scientifically sound third-party data on Michigan’s agricultural economy, inventory, production, resources and food supply,” said Bob Boehm, manager of the Michigan Farm Bureau commodity and marketing department. “Maintaining accurate tracking of the industry has been identified as one of the key priorities of the specialty crop sector. State funding of the agricultural statistics program has been a major challenge, and we congratulate MSU, MDA and USDA on the completion of this agreement.”

NASS will continue to provide supplemental federal support to help administer Michigan’s statistical program and provide statistical consultation services to the MDA and MSU.

“We are pleased to be included in this new partnership and look forward to serving industry users with current, statistically sound information that is essential to the economic viability of the specialty agricultural sector,” said USDA-NASS Michigan field office director Dave Kleweno.

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