- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy
The New York Times reports on the latest cuts to the Department of Agriculture:
Last year, Wisconsin led the nation in mink farming, producing 833,430 pelts. Texas was the undisputed king of pansies, growing 1.8 million flats of the flowers. And no state harvested more hops than Washington, with 24,336 acres.
This year? Who knows? The government has stopped counting.
Forced to cut its budget, the Agriculture Department has decided to eliminate dozens of reports, including the annual goat census (current population: three million), and the number of catfish on the nation’s fish farms (177 million, not counting the small fry).
The government began producing regular crop reports in 1863, the year after Lincoln created the Agriculture Department. One of the reports being eliminated, an annual sheep inventory (5.5 million head on Jan. 1), can trace its roots at least as far back as 1866. Also ending are reports on bees, honey production, flowers and nursery crops.
The statistics service said it was forced to reduce the frequency of some reports and eliminate others because its budget was cut for the fiscal year that ended in September and it expects further cuts for the current year. The eliminated reports will save $11 million a year.
“These are not cuts we wanted to make, but budget reductions by Congress made it necessary,” said Matt Herrick, a spokesman for the Agriculture Department.
Decline-o-meter: Lord knows there’s ample room for cuts in U.S. farm policies, but spending $11 million to obtain accurate figures about a fairly vital sector of the economy actually sounds pretty reasonable to me.
Of course, the goat census is ripe for mockery, according to the longstanding principle in American political discourse that any government policy involving animals automatically sounds ridiculous. And yes, given the title of this post, I can’t really complain about that.