ARMS: Informing policy on the farm economy

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click image to zoom Nothing gives us a better insight into the U.S. farm economy than USDA’s annual Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS). It’s the major source of information on production practices, resource use, and financial conditions among U.S. farms and farm households. As such, ARMS data provide the core of economic intelligence on production agriculture for use in policy analysis and evaluation of current programs. 

Every year, our agencies – USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) and Economic Research Service (ERS) – pool our resources to reach out to tens of thousands of farmers across the country to measure the economic pulse of U.S. agriculture. First conducted in 1996, ARMS is a consolidation of earlier USDA surveys dating back to 1975 that focused on cropping practices, chemical use, and farm costs and returns.

ARMS is a major undertaking. The three-phase process begins each May and ends in April of the following year. During that period, NASS contacts a representative sample of farmers several times – by mail, by phone, and often in person – to gather information on field-level farm practices, the economics of farm businesses, on-farm chemical usage and farm household characteristics. In addition to contacting various types of farms, we focus on different crops and livestock every year to make sure we get in-depth data on specific agricultural commodities. In 2012, we are taking a closer look at the soybean industry. In fact, NASS interviewers are currently contacting soybean growers across the country.

Both agencies summarize and synthesize ARMS data for use in key reports. NASS, for example, regularly publishes agricultural chemical use data and farm expenditures information. For ERS, data in ARMS underpin its estimates of farm income – used, incidentally, by the Commerce Department in its estimates of gross domestic product and personal income. ERS draws on ARMS to produce the congressionally mandated Family Farm Report and its Commodity Costs and Returns data, and to produce reports on topics that include contracting between farmers and commodity buyers, farmers’ adoption of technology and conservation practices, and the extent of local marketing by farmers.

Among the most important functions of ARMS is to inform policy makers about the complexity of the farm sector and farm operations so that they make decisions based on facts – not on perceptions or opinions.  As lawmakers evaluate the impacts of alternative policies and programs – and as debate proceeds on new farm legislation – information from ARMS can shed light on potential impacts on farms of different types and in different regions.

For more in-depth information, visit our interactive ARMS data tool. 

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