This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.
2013 is the International Year of Statistics. As part of this global event, every month this year USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service will profile careers of individuals who are making significant contributions to improve agricultural statistics in the United States.
Growing up in the rural community of St. James, Louisiana, I always had a passion for agriculture. In 1992, I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural Business from Southern University A&M College in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and earned a Master of Science degree in Agricultural Economics from Washington State University two years later.
For my master’s thesis, I created an economic model analyzing the profitability of the Washington state asparagus industry. To get the data for my thesis, I created and mailed questionnaires, editing and analyzing all of the responses. This experience sparked my interest in the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), and I joined the agency’s California Field Office in 1994.
The California office opened up new horizons for me. Growing up in Louisiana, I was used to what we call “conventional” farming. But California agriculture is much more diverse, giving me a chance to learn about different crops, such as grapes, almonds, and oranges. That was just the beginning of my NASS career. I expanded my knowledge of American agriculture, accepting assignments over the next few decades in Mississippi, Washington, D.C. and New Jersey offices.
These experiences also honed my statistical skills and prepared me for my current role as the chief of the Environmental, Economics, and Demographics Branch. Diversity is truly the nature of my branch. We publish all of the agency’s data on farmer demographics, farm income, prices, labor, as well as on pesticide and herbicide use in agriculture. Just a few weeks ago, for example, we published updates to farm expenditures figures, which showed that producers’ expenditures topped $350 billion for the first time in history.
It is the diversity of statistics that appeals the most to me about my current role. One day I may meet with farmers who talk to me about their increases in farm inputs as compared to the value of their crops sold. The next day, I may handle one of our frequent requests from university professors looking for farmer demographics data for the U.S. and specific regions. To me, that’s the true beauty of statistics - the fact that these numbers touch every facet of our lives.