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Collaboration Across Agencies Supports Food Assistance Research

Who participates in federal food assistance programs, and how does participation affect their lives? Who doesn’t participate, and why not? Policymakers need high-quality data on such questions to make informed decisions about these programs, which affect millions of lives each year. That is why two USDA agencies are collaborating with the U.S. Census Bureau to produce research that sheds new light on the programs.

Agricultural Data Users Weigh-in on USDA Statistical Programs

As I’ve learned over my years with the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), in order to make an impact, our information needs to meet the needs of the people who use the data we produce. And while we constantly try to gauge and meet their needs, it is imperative to speak to our data users directly to get their input. We are open to feedback all the time and we hold annual special Data Users’ Meeting in Chicago every October.

Of course face-to-face interaction has its limitations since not everyone can travel to Chicago to meet with us. To address this concern, for the first time this year, we are also adding a social media component to our Data Users’ Meeting. Immediately following the panel session at the meeting, from 5 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Central Time, I will be answering questions via Twitter during our monthly #StatChat.

Consumer Demand Bolstering Organic Production and Markets in the U.S.

Organic food sales in the United States have shown double-digit growth during most years since the 1990s, and this trend shows no sign of slowing.  The Nutrition Business Journal reports annual growth in the nation’s organic food sales has generally exceeded 10 percent since the downturn in the American economy in 2008.  U.S. organic food sales approached an estimated $37 billion in 2015, up 12 percent from the previous year.  The country’s top food retailers, including Costco, Kroger, Walmart and Target, have expanded their organic food offerings in recent years, and have announced initiatives which could further boost demand.

Although organic sales have been increasing from a small base, the Organic Trade Association estimates that U.S. organic food purchases accounted for nearly 5 percent of the total food market in 2014.  In addition, U.S. sales of organic personal care products, linens, and other nonfood items were in excess of an estimated $3 billion in 2014.  Certified organic farmland has also expanded, while not as fast as organic sales.

Georgia Farmers and Ranchers are Growing Opportunities through Community Partnerships

Today, one-in-six Americans lives in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau—and 90 percent of counties with the highest poverty rates are in rural America. These are also communities with high numbers of historically underserved groups, like African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans and Native Americans.

Last year, McIntosh Sustainable Environment and Economic Development (SEED) partnered with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) with the goal of improving delivery of NRCS programs to Georgia’s socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers in USDA StrikeForce counties.  SEED is a grassroots, community-based organization with a mission to improve social, economic, environmental and cultural interests of the community while providing quality education, better housing, recreational facilities, business opportunities and environmental protection and restoration.

Producing Statistics about Hard-to-Reach Populations through Adaptive and Network Sampling

The number of people who had heart disease related surgeries, the percentage of Americans who take anti-depressants; the number of women who opt for natural childbirth, these are health statistics you likely hear about in the news frequently. But how do public health researchers obtain data about hard-to-reach, marginalized populations such as the homeless at-risk of contracting specific things like HIV/AIDS?

Producing statistics about hidden, underserved populations was one of the topics explored by Dr. Steve Thompson, professor of statistics at Simon Fraser University during the 25th annual Morris Hansen Lecture hosted by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). The lecture series was established by the Washington Statistical Society to honor Morris Hansen and his pioneering contributions to survey sampling and related statistical methods during his long and distinguished service at the U.S. Census Bureau. More than 200 people attended this year’s lecture at USDA’s Jefferson Auditorium in Washington.

New Ag Statistics Showcase Importance of U.S. Agriculture

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 profile.

At the recent Agricultural Outlook Forum I had the pleasure of speaking with hundreds of people regarding a new program I’m very excited about: the Current Agricultural Industrial Reports (CAIR). Here at NASS, we publish hundreds of reports every year on inventory, production, and values of U.S. agriculture products. The CAIR program takes us a step beyond. CAIR provides a glimpse into the processing of agricultural products such as fuels, cooking oils, flour, and fabric.

Data from the CAIR program are important to U.S. economic policy. Better data means better markets analysis, better strategic planning, better forecasting, and more well-informed business decisions and policies. That impacts every citizen.

A Lifetime of Statistics

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 the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

As long as I can remember, I’ve had a passion for numbers and statistics. That’s why I’ve dedicated the last 39 years of my life to this amazing field.

I earned my degree in statistics in 1975 and shortly after that joined the U.S. Census Bureau, where I worked for 21 years.  At the Census Bureau, I had a really diverse experience, having worked on crime, housing, economics, and labor statistics, before ending up with the Census of Agriculture team. It was when this team transitioned to the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) in 1997 that I joined my new home away from home at USDA.

Parental Employment, Education, and Disability are Factors in Food Insecurity among Children

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.

In the wake of the economic downturn that began in late 2007, food insecurity in households with children remains near the highest level observed since monitoring began in 1995. In 2011, 20.6 percent of U.S. households with children were food insecure—unable at some time during the year to acquire adequate food for one or more members due to insufficient money or other resources for food.  In about half of those households, only adults experienced reduced food quality or quantity, but in 10 percent of all households with children, one or more of the children were also affected.

Food security is especially important for children because the foods they eat—or don’t eat—affect not only their current health and well-being, but also their development and future health. Studies suggest that children in food-insecure households are more likely to have negative health and development outcomes than children in otherwise similar food-secure households, such as poorer health, more frequent colds, and lower math and reading achievement.

Putting Rural Development on the Map

Today, the Economic Research Service (ERS) posted a new and innovative interactive mapping tool that makes it easy to visualize and compare rural economic and social conditions among counties, states, and regions. By creating county-level maps of the United States,  users can see how socioeconomic conditions vary across the United States, or within a state.