NASS improves data collection methods

"Census of Agriculture" data collect top NASS accomplishments for 2018 and provide advancements in technology and enhanced customer service.

December 28, 2018

3 Min Read
NASS improves data collection methods

In completing the "Census of Agriculture" data collection that is required every five years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) implemented customer-focused improvements in 2018 and plans to release the new "Census of Agriculture" data in February 2019 with a session at USDA’s Ag Outlook Forum in Arlington, Va., immediately following the release.

“Over the course of the past year, NASS conducted the single largest federal agricultural data collection program in the United States with an improved online questionnaire and asked new questions to document changes and emerging trends in American farming,” NASS administrator Hubert Hamer said. “These efforts, along with the partnership of hundreds of farm organizations across the country and participation by hundreds of thousands of producers who completed the 'Census of Agriculture,' provide public data to tell the changing story of agriculture since 1840.”

The improved online questionnaire factored into NASS receiving 445,000 responses online, a 57.2% increase from the 283,000 received in 2012. The overall national response rate from more than 3 million known and potential farms and ranches across the U.S. was 71.8%, down from the 74.5% in the 2012 census.

The soon-to-be-released "Census of Agriculture" results will include first-time information on military service, food marketing practices and on-farm decision-making. These additions will help better capture the roles and contributions of beginning farmers, women farmers and others involved in running a farm enterprise. Those seeking the census data will find an improved website experience with a consistent look and feel across one NASS website. Website visitors will experience improved searching and responsive design, along with a new interactive data visualization pilot.

Building on the success of the online "Census of Agriculture" questionnaire, NASS has applied the system to nearly 50% of its surveys, with the remainder coming online as they are conducted. The user-friendly questionnaire is accessible on most devices, calculates totals automatically and skips questions that do not apply to the operation. In addition to being more convenient for respondents, it makes data collection and analysis more efficient for USDA. In support of these efforts and in response to farmer feedback, NASS has begun testing email and text messaging to provide survey results and alert producers to upcoming surveys.

NASS created a valuable interactive data visualization that makes finding and understanding commonly sought data points more accessible to data users. This innovation won the Association of Public Data Users’ best visualization in the federal government category. It is also informing a more comprehensive visualization currently under development for the 2017 "Census of Agriculture" data release.

NASS used a satellite with cloud-penetrating capability from the European Space Agency to provide geospatial assessments of areas affected by Hurricane Florence. This allowed the capture of real-time storm inundation over crop and pasture lands and the subsequent flood assessments. Geospatial decision support products were derived and provided for rapid response to assess flooded areas and identify potential crop losses caused by the hurricane. Throughout 2018, NASS also collaborated with the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Aeronautics & Space Administration and the California Department of Water Resources to provide information for monthly geospatial decision products related to the ongoing California drought.

As a recognized world leader in agricultural statistics, NASS provided technical assistance and training to improve agricultural statistics programs and access to data in Armenia, Georgia, Haiti, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Tanzania. These partnerships allow U.S. analysts to better understand the world supply and demand situation. Improved analysis supports trade and more efficient marketing of U.S. agricultural products.

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