Like nearly all organizations that use surveys to collect information, we have seen declining response rates in recent years. The value of accurate data is now more important than ever for decision-making on the farm, and by USDA farm program administrators, policy makers, researchers, market participants and, really, every aspect of agriculture. It is critical that we work closely with potential respondents and their industry representatives.
End-of-year crop production and stocks surveys, including the county agricultural production survey, which are critical for the Farm Service Agency and the Risk Management Agency to administer programs that benefit farmers and ranchers are upon us. These agencies need accurate data to serve producers with beneficial programs such as the Price Loss Coverage (PLC), Agriculture Risk Coverage (PLC), Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and many crop insurance programs.
Thankfully, we have amazing technology to help us that I couldn’t imagine using 30 years ago. I think George Washington, one of the earliest compilers of ag data, and those who later produced the first census of agriculture in 1840 would be astounded. We harness satellite imagery, online survey response tools, tablet-based data collection during personal interviews in the field, and many more systems. It seems like we have new tools almost daily and we are tapping them to make it easier and more convenient for those who receive surveys to respond. New technologies also make data analysis and publication more efficient and accurate for us.
Just a month ago, I became the eighth administrator of the National Agricultural Statistics Service, the agency charged with producing official federal data on U.S. agriculture. When I joined NASS as a recent graduate of Tennessee State University many years ago, technology and how we did our work was quite different, but our mission remains the same – to produce accurate, timely and useful statistics in service to U.S. agriculture. Service and our commitment to U.S. agriculture are what drives us at NASS and to that end, I have three areas of focus: 1. Relationships with survey respondents, 2. Advancing our use of technology to ensure data quality and usability; and 3. NASS employees.
In turning to our staff, my goal is to have an environment where our outstanding employees can do their best work. This includes a safe and inclusive workplace with diversity of people and ideas; where vigorous, respectful debate is encouraged and where employees can continue to harness their talent and work ethic to fulfill both their career goals and our agency mission. My expectation is that everyone who interacts with NASS staff anywhere in the country finds us to be helpful, pleasant and professional.
We are proud of the work we do in service to U.S. agriculture and want each person involved in agriculture to know the value of the data we produce and how to use it to meet their needs and interests. This especially holds true for farmers and ranchers who fill out surveys but may not immediately see the connection to crop insurance price elections, FSA programs or even ways to use the information to inform land use decisions in their own communities. If you’d like to learn more about our data, please feel free to contact us at an office near you or look on our website.