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Behind the Scenes with Ag 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 USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

It is astounding to reflect at the end of the year and realize once again how many pieces came together each day, each week, and each month to make sure the United States has the best official agricultural statistics. It is something of a well-oiled machine made up of America’s farmers, statisticians, modern technology, deep agricultural knowledge, and the most basic elements of human interaction – trust and hard work – that brings forth these useful and objective data on time year after year since 1840.

It takes hundreds of thousands of producers responding to a multitude of surveys each year, in addition to the every-five-year Census of Agriculture which USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) conducted this year, to provide the source information about U.S. farm production.  For this, we thank each individual producer who takes the time to complete the surveys.  Get a first look at the 2012 Census of Agriculture data on February 20, 2014 at the Ag Outlook Forum.

The small army of dedicated NASS staff and enumerators prepare the surveys, gather the information from producers, analyze and aggregate the information and then prepare and release the data. Everyone takes their jobs seriously and is committed to producing the best agricultural statistics available. We are honoring many this week with an award ceremony and certificates of recognition for truly outstanding contributions.

And why do we need these agricultural statistics? On a practical level, there are examples such as a Pennsylvania township using information about dairy farms to determine which roads to plow first in a snow storm so that milk could get to market instead of potentially being dumped. And the beginning farmer who used data to determine where to locate her organic farm based on the proximity of farm services, other organic farms, and other criteria that would create a favorable business environment her operation. Or the trucking company that wanted to determine the best location to expand based on where large volumes of certain grains and byproducts are produced.

In the big picture, we need them to understand local and global food supply, ensure smooth domestic and international trade, and to inform local and national food, land and farm policy. Many federal agencies and policy makers use the information for programs such as crop insurance, determining the use of and need for conservation programs, animal health and financial assistance.

Since we collect the information personally, we often hear from producers just how important these data are to them. And not just the producers – researchers, commodity market analysts, agricultural businesses, food companies, and students are among many others can tell you how they used the data nearly every day.   Take a minute and explore the broad array of NASS data to learn more about agriculture in your county and nation and tell us how you use NASS data.

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