Last week I drove to Sacramento to speak with the folks who put together the Crush Report and the Acreage Report. It’s so essential to the analysis I do for more work, I wanted to understand it better – to peek behind the curtain and to thank the folks who create it. I’m glad I did. For one, it increased my confidence in both reports. They do make significant efforts to verify data and to keep abreast of best practices.
I also learned a great deal about how we, as an industry, can improve the worth of the Crush and Acreage Reports. Which we should do, since we’re already paying for them! Here are a few suggestions:
Educate the public about confidentiality: I was surprised to hear about how ironclad confidential the office’s policies were. Other agencies have requested the data to help with their jobs – which may mean they are looking for evidence for regulatory or legal actions against a grower. The USDA WILL NOT SHARE YOUR DATA WITH THESE AGENCIES! In fact, even other departments within the agency, EVEN THE SECRETARY OF AGRICULTURE, do not have access to the data you send in!
New grower outreach: Once someone is on the USDA’s list it is easy for the USDA to keep in touch with them to gather their data. When new acreage goes into the ground, though, there is no guarantee that the USDA can make contact. It is on us to consistently report our new plantings and to remind new growers that they need to report to the USDA.
Host the USDA folks at your grower organization meetings: USDA staff indicated to me that they would be very willing to come out and meet us. Grower organizations should give them a chance to teach the public about what they are doing.
Look over the preliminary reports and send in feedback: As with all good data folks, the nice people at the USDA want us to thoroughly review their preliminary reports and let them know if something looks wrong. If you see something, say something.
Arrange funding for converting pdf documentation to xls format: If you use my Grape Data Tool, you’ll notice that it provides price data back to 1991 and acreage data back to 1994. But both types of data are available in pdf format, going back to the early 70s. I certainly don’t have the time to convert the pdf data to xls data. But, if the CDFA or our industry could arrange to pay an intern or two, we could have access to that data. For my part, I’ll integrate it into the Grape Data Tool, which is both free and powerful.
Make acreage reporting mandatory: Ok, so this may not be popular or possible, but we could, as an industry, push our lawmakers to pass a law making acreage reporting mandatory. This type of mandate is the reason the Crush Report is so useful. I’m in favor.
I hope we can all come together to work to improve this product that we are already paying for. Right now, we have a receptive voice in Sacramento. The current Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, Karen Ross, spent 13-14 years as the head of the California Association of Winegrape Growers. If we all do our part and we get a little extra help from the State, we could make these great reports even better.