NASS research advancements in 2017 serve U.S. ag

"Census of Agriculture" updated for new agricultural trends and ease of responding.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) has advanced a number of programs in 2017 to serve the U.S. agriculture industry with customer- and data-driven improvements, according to the agency.

Among these enhancements are changes to the every-five-year "Census of Agriculture," which officially launched at the end of November and is due in February 2018, NASS said. For this census, NASS introduced an improved online questionnaire and included new questions to document changes and emerging trends in agriculture.

"America's 3 million farmers, ranchers and others involved in agriculture should receive their 2017 'Census of Agriculture' questionnaire in the coming days, if they haven't already," NASS administrator Hubert Hamer said. "We ask that everyone respond promptly to represent themselves, their communities and their industries and to do so online, if possible. NASS heard customer feedback and worked hard to produce a user-friendly online questionnaire that saves time for producers and improves data quality."

Those responding to the census can now use mobile and desktop devices and readily access frequently asked questions. The form automatically calculates totals and skips sections that do not pertain to an operation. New census questions are a result of public requests. These include a new question about military veteran status, expanded questions about food marketing practices and questions about on-farm decision-making to help better capture the roles and contributions of beginning farmers, women farmers and others involved in running a farm enterprise, NASS said.

The "Census of Agriculture" is a complete count of all U.S. farms, ranches and those who operate them. Conducted since 1840, it is the only source of uniform, comprehensive and impartial agricultural data for every state and county in the country. Farmers and ranchers, trade associations, government, extension educators, researchers and many others rely on the census data when making decisions that shape American agriculture — from creating and funding farm programs to boosting services for communities and the industry.

Rapid disaster response

Another 2017 accomplishment for NASS in service to U.S. agriculture was rapid disaster response to hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, the agency said. For the first time, NASS used a satellite with cloud-penetrating capability from the European Space Agency to provide geospatial assessments of affected areas.

This allowed the capture of real-time storm inundation over crop and pasture lands and the subsequent flood assessments. As a result, NASS was able to derive and provide a number of geospatial decision-making support products to help with response. These products included crop and pasture land inundated areas and percentages of affected crops, estimates of precipitation totals, cropland data layer (CDL) maps and wind swaths or surface winds overlaid onto crop areas identified from the CDL product.

Access to and use of the satellite technology will allow NASS to provide rapid response to help with future extreme weather events.

Streamlined honeybee information

In addition, NASS published new data on the economics of beekeeping in its annual "Honey" report in March 2017. New data included prices for queens, expenditures and estimates on pollination and other incomes. NASS has further combined the annual "Colony Loss" and "Bee & Honey Small Operations Production, Disposition & Income" surveys into one survey to streamline data collection and reduce the burden on respondents. The name of the new survey is "Bee & Honey Production & Loss Inquiry."

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