Millions working in agriculture and ranching in the United States rely on the surveys and reports conducted by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). Each year, the agency administers hundreds of surveys to farmers and ranchers and analyzes the results to issue reports on nearly every aspect of U.S. agriculture. Topics include state and national estimates of crop and livestock production, prices paid and received by farmers, and farm demographics, finances, land values, and chemical use.
Every five years, the agency also conducts a Census of Agriculture, which is a detailed survey of agricultural data for every county in the United States. The NASS reports provide objective statistical information to help farmers and ranchers decide how much corn to plant, or how many cattle to raise, for example. The reports also aid businesses in deciding when to buy or sell agricultural commodities, and provide essential information for the efficient operation of state and federal farm programs. The current NASS Administrator is Cynthia Clark.
Agricultural surveys in the United States date to 1791, when President George Washington wrote to a number of farmers requesting they send information on land values, crops, yields, livestock prices, and taxes. Washington prepared the survey and compiled the results, which he outlined in detail in a series of letters to famed English agricultural reformer Arthur Young. These letters have come to be known as the nation’s first documented agricultural survey.
The first Census of Agriculture took place in 1840. The Division of Statistics, one early predecessor of the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), was later formed in 1863, a year after President Abraham Lincoln created the Department of Agriculture (USDA). During the Civil War, buyers often had more current and detailed market information than farmers, which often prevented farmers from getting a fair price for their goods. The USDA worked to collect and distribute crop and livestock statistics to help farmers fairly assess the values of their goods.
Over the next 100 years, the Division of Statistics was renamed and splintered multiple times, including the Bureau of Markets and Crop Estimates, the Bureau Agricultural Economics, and the Statistical Reporting Service in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1980, the agency was known as the Economics and Statistic Service, but then split in 1981 to form the Economic Research Service (which develops projections), and the Statistical Reporting Service (marking the second time the agency had this name). The Statistical Reporting Service became the NASS in 1986.
The primary work of the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) is for the Agricultural Estimates Program, for which 46 field offices (pdf) across the country survey thousands of operators of farms, ranches and agribusiness. All respondents are promised confidentiality. The survey results are sent to NASS headquarters and provide a basis of reports by the Agricultural Statistics Board that estimate production, supply, price and other factors in the agricultural economy. Reports are issued relating to the number of farms, the acreage, type and production of farm crops, the number of livestock and livestock products, stocks of agricultural commodities, the value of farm products, farm labor, prices received and paid by farmers, and chemical use. Other subjects are also studied as needed. The agency publishes about 500 national reports and thousands of state reports.
The NASS surveys the following areas and subgroups:
* Animals and Products: Dairy; livestock; poultry, red meat; specialty.
* Crops and Plants: Field crops; fruit and tree nuts; horticulture; vegetables.
* Economics: Expenses; farms, land, and assets; labor.
* Environmental: Agricultural Chemical Usage Reports
* Demographics: Number of farms; farm labor; farm computer usage and ownership; agricultural—Related Injury Report.
The NASS also conducts the Census of Agriculture, which is taken every five years and provides a comprehensive report on the agricultural economy by national, state, and county level data. In addition to the 50 states, there is also data in the census for Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands. The most recent census was 2007 and the next census of agriculture will take place in 2012, and will likely be released in 2014.
The NASS also performs studies for other federal agencies, state governments, and private organizations or international entities, for a fee. Such work could include survey design, data collection, and analysis.
From the Web Site of the National Agricultural Statistics Service
Field Office Directory (pdf)
Organizational Chart (pdf)
The information gathered in National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) surveys directly impacts all involved in the agricultural industry. Subsidies and tariffs are gauged in part on the health of the industry and the strength of U.S. production. The ramifications of agricultural policy are felt in both the domestic and international markets.
The proposed FY2013 budget requests $179 million in funding, which includes $110 million for agricultural estimates and $62.5 million for the Census of Agriculture (a $20.7 million increase). There are an additional $17.5 million in obligations under other USDA appropriations. The budget request additionally includes an increase of $383,000 to fund increased pay costs. There is also a $3.4 million increase for improvements to the County Estimates Program that is used to administer crop insurance programs, and for enhancing remote sensing activities. This increase is offset by a decrease of $3.38 million due to National Operations Center efficiencies.
The National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) is a scientific agency and not a decision maker and as such, is not often directly involved in controversy. Implementation of policy based on NASS surveys is, however, controversial at times.
Some have questioned the amount spent on calculating the old economy including agriculture. A July 2010 article in the Philadelphia Inquirer quoted Temple University Professor William C. Dunkelberg, who said that too much money is spent collecting manufacturing and agricultural data, “the old backbone of the economy,” and not enough on newer industries. According to IHS Global Insight, 53% of the data categories relate to manufacturing even though manufacturing accounted for only 9% of employment and 11% of the gross domestic product.
Government Data-Gathering Hasn't Shifted with Economy (by Harold Brubaker, Philadelphia Inquirer)
Cutting Reports To Save Money
The National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) decided within a three-month span in 2011 to first cut, then restore several agricultural reports.
The NASS produces statistical reports on everything from cattle, hogs, and sheep to farm employment and wages. In October, the NASS eliminated dozens of reports on the population of farm animals and produce due to budget constraints.
By December, it had brought back 10 reports providing useful data “in service to agriculture”:
Agriculture Secretary Previews New Reforms (by Charles S. Clark, Government Executive)
NASS to Reinstate Several Agricultural Estimates Programs (Ellison Chair in International Floriculture)
After Review, NASS to Bring Back Some of Its Reports (The Hagstrom Report)
Joseph T. Reilly
Joseph T. Reilly grew up on a small farm near Tamaqua, Pennsylvania. In 1975, he graduated from the Pennsylvania State University with degrees in Statistics and Marketing and later served for 21 years in the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Census. In 1997, he received the department’s highest award for his outstanding management of the Census of Agriculture. Later that year, Census of Agriculture responsibilities were transferred from the Census Bureau to the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). Reilly followed the transfer and became the Deputy Administrator for Field Operations responsible for the operation of all 46 NASS field operations covering 50 states and Puerto Rico. He was named the Associate Administrator of NASS in 2005, and became Acting Administrator when R. Ronald Bosecker retired from the agency in 2008.
Upon the retirement of long-time Administrator R. Ronald Bosecker on January 3, 2008, Reilly served as Acting Administrator until current Administrator Cynthia Clark was appointed. Reilly then returned to his position as Associate Administrator of NASS.
R. Ronald Bosecker
Ronald Bosecker grew up on a small farm in southeastern Illinois. He received his undergraduate degree in Agricultural Economics from Southern Illinois University and earned two masters degrees from The Ohio State University in agricultural economics and mathematical statistics.
Bosecker had been with the NASS for over 40 years at its headquarters in Washington D.C., and in the Illinois, Ohio, and California field offices. He was appointed Administrator in December 1999. He is a member of the U.S. Interagency Council on Statistical Policy and the American Statistical Association and was inducted as an ASA Fellow in 2004.