USDA NASS Tracks the State of Agriculture
Thursday, September 22nd, 2011
Work on the 2012 Farm Bill is well under way in Washington with considerable data used in drafting the bill coming from the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). NASS issues about 500 publications annually covering all aspects of U.S. agriculture.
“Our mission is to collect unbiased, relevant, reliable data that accurately tells the U.S. agriculture story,” said Doug Kleweno, director of the USDA NASS Georgia Field Office. “Some of our work is legislated by Congress, some is defined by our data users but the ultimate objective is to provide quality information to ensure a healthy, competitive U.S. ag industry.”
The agency was established in 1863 to provide annual production information to those interested in agriculture. In addition to the 500 publications issued nationally by NASS, its state field offices issue some 9,000 reports and news releases annually. Data sources include thousands of producers and agribusinesses that voluntarily participate in NASS surveys, as well as crop observations and measurements. NASS also conducts and releases the Census of Agriculture every five years, most recently in 2007.
“I want to thank the growers and producers in Georgia for responding to the surveys we issue. Their confidential responses are what make NASS a sound, reliable source of data,” Kleweno said.
Supporting a Healthy, Competitive Ag Industry
According to Kleweno, the information that NASS collects and publishes helps producers market their commodities, defines transportation needs, assists input suppliers in managing their inventories and manufacturing, and helps establish the financial health and historical trends of the industry.
The agency collects data in four main areas:
• Acreage, production, stocks data for crops, livestock inventory data, market prices and value of production at state and national levels. The agency also tracks genetically modified plantings. Reports include data such as acreage, area harvested, yield, inventory and others. The information helps producers judge when to take their crops and livestock to market and helps ag service firms manage their businesses. For example, railways use the information to ensure they have rail cars positioned in the right locations at the right time.
• Fertilizer and chemical use, and integrated pest management practices by crop type and state. Chemical use statistics help determine the actual application rate of ag chemicals versus manufacturers’ recommended application rates. According to Kleweno, “we often find farmers use less than the maximum rate on the label.” The published data are used by manufacturers, regulators and others concerned with environmental and food safety issues.
• Farm finance data by state and region includes prices paid, production costs, labor costs, income, assets, debt and land values. It provides a snapshot annually of the economic status of the family farm and a measure of the health of the ag sector.
• The five-year Census of Agriculture is a detailed look at trends at the county, state and national levels. It provides data comparisons by major commodity, tabulations by zip code and Congressional district, demographic profiles, specialty reports on organic production, irrigation and other topics.
“The Census of Agriculture captures changes in rural America. It defines a farm today versus a decade or century ago,” Kleweno explained. “We’ll start data collection for the 2012 Census in January 2013.”
Becoming More Efficient and Effective
Like other public agencies, NASS is being asked to meet growing demand for more detailed information more quickly with fewer resources. New technology is providing the solution.
“We are increasing our use of web-based data collection and reporting. About 4 percent of the 2007 Census information was collected online and that will increase in the 2012 Census. We’re also using iPads more in the field for data collection in face-to-face interviews,” Kleweno reported.
In addition, more information is being collected from regional call centers rather than from state call centers to reduce costs. In Georgia, NASS is collaborating with the Georgia Department of Agriculture and other state and federal services to improve efficiency.
“We are finalizing a strategic plan that will enable us to continue to deliver the best, most reliable ag data at the state and local level and ensure we use our limited resources in the most effective way possible,” he continued.