A new report by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine is recommending some changes to how the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) gathers information for its county crop reports and other surveys. Specifically, the Academy notes that NASS will need to use more technology to gather information in the future.
“Producing more precise county-level estimates of crops and farmland cash rents will require integrating multiple data sources using model-based predictions that are more transparent and reproducible,” the report, issued last week, contends.
Farmers concerned about protecting their individual data are often reluctant to hand over their personal information to government agencies, which is reflected in farmers' falling response rates to various NASS acreage and production surveys. The lack of response has been “creating challenges for county data users including the USDA’s Farm Service Agency and Risk Management Agency, who use the county estimates as part of their processes for administering USDA programs, including providing farm insurance and determining farmland rental rates and farm subsidies. As a result, when official NASS estimates are not reliable due to low survey response, alternative estimates may be used that are neither transparent nor reproducible.”
Currently, the Agricultural Statistics Board (ASB) of NASS determines county estimates, using survey responses along with other available information.
To achieve transparency and reproducibility, the report “recommends developing, evaluating, validating, documenting, and using model-based estimates that incorporate both survey data and complementary data such as administrative data, satellite and other remote sensing data, and precision agriculture data.”
The report further recommends that NASS “shift the ASB role from integrating multiple data sources to ensuring that the models used for the integration are continually assessed and validated via a feedback loop that suggests modifications to improve model performance. A key factor in combining survey data with complementary data is the development of a geo-referenced list frame from which the farms to be surveyed are selected. Then the location of the farm can be used to tie the multiple data sources about the farm together with the survey response.
“The report acknowledges that given its limited resources, it may take NASS many years to develop a geo-referenced list frame, appropriate models, and other components needed for this vision of improved county level estimates. The report suggests a two-part plan of action that could be completed by 2025, as well as breaking down each stage into individual projects to be executed by different groups within NASS, each over the course of three years. This would allow NASS to continue its ongoing schedule and workload while implementing gradual change to its estimation practices.”