“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.
The reports are mostly based on mailed surveys, but the data collection can also include telephone interviews and visits to farms.
For catfish farmers like Mr. Nobile, the government’s action is an uncomfortable reminder of their industry’s decline.
Hit hard by imports of cheaper fish from China, the catfish industry is on pace this year to process half as much fish as it did at its peak in 2003. Of course, we know that because the Agriculture Department had been tracking catfish processing every month. The agency now plans to cut not only that report but also a monthly report on catfish feed deliveries and a twice-yearly report that counts the fish in farmers’ ponds. (Cutting catfish and trout reports will save $480,000 a year, the department said.)
The reports themselves reveal a possible rationale for some of the cuts. There are just 389 catfish farms today in the three main producing states, Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi, down from 838 in 2004. There were 265 mink farms nationwide last year, down from 350 a decade earlier.
“Half of everybody’s out of business,” Mr. Nobile said. “We’re so small now they can kick us out and we have no power.”
The Agriculture Department said that some data on sectors covered by the discontinued reports would appear in the census of agriculture, which is prepared every five years.
Some farm groups said they would consider the possibility of paying to keep the reports coming.
Ann E. George, administrator of the Hop Growers of America, in Moxee, Wash., said the group had been paying $15,000 a year to help underwrite federal reports on hop stocks and production. The full cost is about $55,000 a year.
Farm group lobbyists also rely on the reports.
“The mink industry has its opponents,” said Michael Whelan, executive director of Fur Commission USA. “In order to counter some of their misinformation, I have to inform the legislators that mink production in their state is an important component to the economic base.”
With the elimination of the mink report, which cost taxpayers $130,000 a year, the industry will have to compile its own numbers, raising credibility questions. “People may ask if I’m inflating or deflating the numbers for political purposes,” he said.
Many of the reports being cut today, including those on mink, catfish, trout, flowers and honey, were eliminated during an earlier round of budget tightening in 1982. A year later, most of the reports were restored by Congress because of appeals from farm groups.
William E. Kibler, the administrator of the statistics service at the time, said the experience showed how hard it was to eliminate a government program, no matter how small the constituency.
“The commodity organizations out there are pretty strong,” he said. “These congressmen up on the Hill say, ‘$50,000 is not much, let’s give it to them.’ ”