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USDA’s Two Statistical Agencies Produce Quality, Trusted Information

Posted by Hubert Hamer, Administrator, National Agricultural Statistics Service and Spiro Stefanou, Administrator, Economic Research Service in Research and Science
Oct 20, 2020
A farmer using a laptop in front of farm equipment
As principal federal statistical agencies, NASS and ERS collect and analyze data to produce trusted statistics on agriculture and food. Photo source: Shutterstock

Every five years, the United Nations designates October 20 as World Statistics Day to celebrate the importance of official statistics. USDA has two principal federal statistical agencies, the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) and the Economic Research Service (ERS). These two agencies provide vast amounts of information that help us better understand our food system, rural communities, the environment, and the farmers who feed our families.

This year’s World Statistics Day theme of “Connecting the world with data we can trust,” reflects on the importance of trust, authoritative data, innovation and the public good in national statistical systems. These qualities are at the heart of the work of NASS and ERS. As principal federal statistical agencies, we must follow rigorous standards in the production of our data products and reports. Each NASS and ERS employee is required to follow these standards, ensuring our agencies will continue producing timely, accurate, unbiased, and trustworthy statistics.

NASS and ERS produce information that farmers and ranchers, consumers and policymakers count on to make informed decisions. Every five years, NASS conducts the Census of Agriculture, which provides a complete count of U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them. These data, along with other NASS surveys such as the joint ERS and NASS Agricultural Resource Management Survey, are the foundation for many ERS reports and statistical products, such as the annual America’s Diverse Family Farms report, which tells us that 98 percent of farms are family farms and they account for 88 percent of production.

For more than 150 years, NASS been known as the gold standard for useful primary data on nearly all aspects of U.S. agriculture. To provide these data, we’ve done things consistently and comparably for decades, tapping into new technologies when they uphold our high standards for data quality – and, most importantly, for maintaining the privacy of our data providers. We’ve always relied on generations of farmers and ranchers completing surveys, for which we owe many thanks. With decades of data, ground-truthed field samples, data from other agencies, newer geospatial and cloud technologies, and sound methodology, our statistics stand the test of time. These are the foundations on which we are advancing our use of science and technology to make it easier for farmers and ranchers, to make data analysis more efficient, and to make the resulting data easier to use.

As USDA’s principal social science research agency, ERS anticipates trends and emerging issues in agriculture, food, the environment, and rural America and conducts high-quality, objective economic research to inform and enhance public and private decision making. ERS economists produce statistical reports using data from USDA and other statistical agencies to inform decisionmakers at all levels of government and within USDA. These include monthly Commodity Outlook Reports that provide insight into the World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates, the annual Household Food Security report, the monthly Food Price Outlook, the annual Rural America at a Glance report and the Farm Income Forecast, released three times per year. Its recent release showed us that farm sector profits are forecast to increase in 2020. In addition, our work extends beyond our borders to examine how agricultural production in other countries affects international food security and how world trade influences prices for farmers here at home.

The statistics from our two agencies have long been used by USDA to inform policy and program decisions, but they also help farmers make decisions about what crops to plant, consumers make food purchasing decisions, and policymakers shape decisions about how best to invest in rural communities. This information can also help state and local officials identify communities with low access to food or states with higher food insecurity. For example, In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, ERS economists teamed up with the U.S. Census Bureau to produce the Household Pulse Survey, resulting in current information on food insufficiency during the pandemic.

As we celebrate World Statistics Day, we are looking to the future to anticipate data and economic needs so that we can continue to provide the information decision makers need. We encourage you to join us and explore the information from our agencies to see how it can help you make informed decisions for you and your family.

Category/Topic: Research and Science