Budget Cuts Ax Report

By Karl Klooster

For years, the Oregon wine industry has been the beneficiary of an annual report prepared by the National Agricultural Statistical Service, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Called The Oregon Vineyard and Winery Report, it featured detailed information on acreage, plantings by variety and production by county across the state, courtesy of the service’s Portland office. By longstanding arrangement, the USDA and wine industry have shared the cost.

But a substantial decrease in revenue, resulting from federal budget gridlock as parties struggle to address the deficit, have resulted in severe budget cuts. And it appears agriculture will be one of the hardest hit.

NASS State Director Chris Mertz said, “Although things can always change, as of now we are acting on the understanding that the funds will not be available this year.”

Mertz said reports on all crops grown in the state will be similarly affected, except citrus. However, he said the annual wine report was the most detailed and probably the most valued by its constituency.

“If the Oregon wine industry is willing to pay the entire cost of producing the report, as they have wanted it done in the past, my office will do that,” Mertz said. “If it comes to us with a request for a more limited report, we are willing to retool for it.”

Asked if another entity might be able to create the report on behalf of the industry, Mertz was adamant about not allowing it out of agency hands. He said it would not be willing to release the information gathered to any outside party.

“We have pledged confidentiality to the businesses surveyed, and they have given us private information based on that assurance,” he said. “The NASS is an objective third party whose credibility must remain unquestioned.”

At a Nov. 14 meeting of the Oregon Winegrowers Association, members discussed the issue without coming to a firm conclusion. Association spokesman Charles Humble noted the bi-partisan congressional budget super-committee could break the current deadlock, but said that did not look promising.

An official statement released by the OWA said, “The decision by Congress not to fund the annual Oregon Vineyard and Winery Survey will have a huge detrimental effect on Oregon’s $2.7 billion wine industry.

“The survey is the single authoritative source of critical data from which the industry determines grape prices, forecasts future revenues and makes critical research decisions. It has become the gold standard for gathering essential reference data about the industry and the annual harvest.”

The statement continued, “The Oregon Winegrowers Association is working with the state’s congressional delegation to reinstate this funding as well as contemplating alternative steps should the funding not be reinstated.”

It’s obvious that a great deal of thought and effort over time has gone into honing the report on many levels. It would be a substantial loss if this valuable tool were not available in its entirety for evaluation and use by the Oregon wine industry.

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