Surveying America’s farmers online

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Although the first Census of Agriculture dates back to 1840, the way the data is collected is most assuredly not stuck in the past.  Historically, the main mode of data collection for the ag census has been by mail. There is one reason for this – it has always been cheaper!  With advancements in technology, USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service has tapped into more cost-efficient ways to collect information.

For the first time, during the 2007 Census of Agriculture respondents could go online and use the tool NASS refers to as Electronic Data Reporting (EDR) to respond. The agency was pleasantly surprised to glean nearly 100,000 responses from EDR. However, we knew we could improve upon that mark.  With a clear focus on increasing online responses, NASS retooled the EDR instrument for the 2012 Census of Agriculture to be faster and more user-friendly, without compromising our commitment to confidentiality by protecting our nation’s farmers’ valuable information.

And, of course, we realize that not only is the information valuable but so is the respondent’s time. To that end, the EDR instrument is designed to help the respondent move quickly through the form by skipping sections in the questionnaire that do not apply to the operation. To the delight of many respondents, EDR is the quickest way to respond to the Census, including telling NASS that you are not farming.

Online respondents are not the only ones who can reap the benefits of our online tools. For the 2012 Census of Agriculture, we will also turn to EDR for our in-person data collection in the coming weeks. When interviewers visit with farmers this spring they will use iPads to securely access and fill out the Census online rather than using paper forms.

So far, the results of responding online for the 2012 Agriculture Census have been fantastic. To date, NASS has received more than 250,000 responses through the EDR system. That’s 250,000 records that are accounted for and processed more quickly and in a more cost-effective manner than ever before.

As NASS looks to the future, we continue to ask how we can best serve U.S. agriculture. If America’s producers continue to adopt ways of electronic communication and survey response, and it’s time- and cost-effective for everyone, the future offers much more to explore for innovations in collecting agricultural statistics. In the meantime, however, all farmers and ranchers can keep visiting the Census of Agriculture website to respond online.

On National Ag Day, USDA’s Research, Education, and Economics science agencies are sharing four blogs highlighting the importance of innovation and research to food and agriculture. To see more, click here.



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