Ethanol Blog

RFA Asks USDA to Reconsider Decision to Stop Reporting County-Level Estimates

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Environmental Editor
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The head of the Renewable Fuels Association asked USDA to reconsider a decision to stop reporting county-level crops data. (NASS logo)

LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- A plan announced by the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service to stop reporting farm acreage, yield and production estimates at the county level, has drawn concern from the Renewable Fuels Association.

In a letter to NASS Acting Administrator Joseph Parsons on Monday, RFA's President and CEO Geoff Cooper said NASS should reconsider because of a "rapid emergence" of state and federal climate policies that will "compel ethanol producers to carefully track" feedstock characteristics.

"The ethanol industry is one of the largest consumers of U.S.-produced corn, accounting for over one-third of total usage, and having accurate and sufficiently high-resolution data about corn production is critical for both market and policy purposes," Cooper said in the letter.

The RFA said there are two main concerns with cancelling county-level acreage and yield estimates.

"First, no other estimates of planted acreage are as comprehensive and widely accepted as those from NASS," Cooper said.

"While alternative county-level acreage data are available from the Farm Service Agency, only 'producers participating in several (federal government) programs' are required to submit an 'acreage report for all crops and land uses' to the FSA. Thus, the FSA data provides an incomplete picture of planted acreage at the county level. NASS has always provided a more complete picture by using the FSA data 'along with the NASS survey data and remote sensing data at specific times during the growing season to arrive at planted acreage estimates.'"

Cooper said there is not a "viable alternative source" of county-level yield estimates.

"NASS's planned discontinuation of county estimates is particularly ill-timed, as several federal agencies are working to develop a version of the GREET life cycle analysis model that will be used to estimate sustainable aviation fuel emissions in connection with section 40B of the Inflation Reduction Act," Cooper said in the letter.

"Since 2020, a feedstock carbon intensity calculator has been included in the Department of Energy's GREET model array, in order to allow more granular estimation of biofuel feedstock-related emissions intensities at the local level. Important aspects of feedstock carbon intensity are calculated at the county level in FD-CIC, and users can enter their localized or individual crop yield."

The industry continues to wait for the Biden administration's release of an updated GREET model.

"It is anticipated that climate-smart farming practices will be recognized in this version of GREET," Cooper said.

"Moreover, some expect that county-level, or even farm-specific, carbon intensity scoring could be allowed under the IRA tax credit programs at some point in the future. For the USDA to discontinue reporting of high-resolution, annual crop yield data at a time when those data are needed for incorporation into the GREET model array and/or for use in the verification of farm-specific estimates would be regrettable."

Last week NASS said in an announcement it was discontinuing the surveys and reports because of budget concerns.

"However, according to the USDA budget summary, the NASS budget was increased to $241 million in fiscal year 2024 from $211 million in 2023," Cooper said.

"It appears that the discontinuation decision might have been based more on how NASS chooses to allocate its resources than on aggregate budget constraints, and it is highly disappointing that stakeholders were not consulted on the potential impacts of these decisions by NASS. The quality and robustness of NASS data is incomparable, and the existing agricultural statistics reporting system is a unique strength that helps U.S. farmers and biofuel producers position themselves competitively in domestic and world markets."

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