Page images



Agriculture has long been an important part of Federal statistical programs. From early data collection programs started in the 1840's by the Census Bureau and the Commissioner of Patents, statistics for agriculture evolved to meet the information needs of the industry as it went through expansion and commercialization. Most of the early data system was developed to aid commerce because the majority of people were on farms. The common theme was that individuals, given sufficient information, would make rational production decisions leading to economic stability. The main purpose of the 19th century statistics on agriculture was to secure a fair price for the farmer and, hence, a fair cost to the consumer in the increasingly market-oriented agricultural economy.

Expansion of agricultural statistics into new areas such as prices, the parity price formula, labor supplies, farm credit, and price spreads occurred in the early part of the 1900's. World War I, the Great Depression, and continued change to a marketoriented agricultural industry brought new demands for agricultural statistics. A larger governmental role in the the life of the Nation added the need for more information on the agricultural economy by government policymakers. In response to these added needs, sector accounts on income, expenditures, debts and assets were developed, forecasting and analytical efforts were increased, and current conditions in agriculture were analyzed on a regular basis.

The agenda for agricultural policy makers has continued to expand since the 1940's. The development and general economic condition of rural communities became an important topic as the number of people making a living from farming declined. The performance of the entire food and fiber sector, from input suppliers through production, processing, wholesaling and retailing, has become an important policy concern for consumers. Interests of consumers in adequate supplies of food at reasonable or fair prices and the economic conditions in rural areas have merged into concerns about the economic structure and control of the farm sector. In

recent years the significantly increased importance of international markets for food and fiber and problems with the environment have created important new policy concerns for agriculture.

These broader areas of public policies affecting agriculture have created new demands for data and information. One of the major problems with the existing system of agricultural and rural statistics is that it has not kept pace with the data needs to address these broader policy issues. A second major problem is that the data system has not been updated to reflect the changing economic structure of the agricultural industry.

Major User Groups Users of statistics on agriculture can be classified into four broad categories: production, processing and handling, consumers, and policy and research institutions. Those involved in production or supplying inputs for production are farmers and their commodity organizations, financial institutions, and companies supplying fertilizer, pesticides and other inputs. They use agricultural statistics for production and market planning and to aid orderly market operations. Commodity supply, use and price data are very important for these business decisionmakers, just as they were when the first statistics were collected in the 1840's.

Processors and handlers are traditionally assigned that segment of the marketing chain from receipt of raw farm products to consumer. This includes such functions as transportation, storage, processing, packaging, and marketing. These data users also rely heavily on commodity statistics to aid their business decisions. The continual flow of a large variety of fresh, quality food products to consumers is greatly aided by accurate and timely commodity statistics.

Consumers includes both the organized and unorganized who wish to stretch the budget or improve the nutritional quality of the diet. Users in this category range from individual households to large foreign corporations in the U.S. market to buy agricultural products. Consumers want to appraise the equity of their cost for food and fiber products so

Current crop reports provide estimates of acreages farmers intend to plant in the coming season, the acres planted and harvested, production, disposition of the crop, and remaining stocks. Forecasts of yield and production are issued monthly during the growing season based on information voluntarily supplied by farmers and from counts, measurements, and observations made in sample fields by ESCS enumerators.

Livestock and poultry reports include estimates of inventory numbers at regular intervals during the year. Reports also cover breeding intentions, births, hatchings, number on feed, wool and mohair production, numbers slaughtered, meat and egg production, and disposition and value.

Dairy reports indicate numbers of milk cows, monthly and annual milk production, and use of milk. Production of major manufactured dairy products is reported weekly, monthly, and annually.

Reports published by ESCS show prices received by farmers for nearly 200 products and prices paid for about 500 items needed for production, indexes of prices received and paid, parity prices, and season average prices of crops, livestock, and livestock products.

Other reports by ESCS deal with farm labor and wages, fertilizer, seeds, bees and honey, mink, naval stores, cold storage holdings, and other miscellaneous agricultural products.

In addition, ESCS has been conducting a research program in the use of satellite observation techniques to provide information on the extent and type of U.S. crops. The objective of this program is to use LANDSAT to improve the efficiency of crop acreage estimates for small areas and to improve the land use stratification for area sampling frames. This program, while potentially valuable, is still in the experimental phase and is not intended, in its application, as a substitute for direct surveys.

The Economic Research Service, the former major analytical arm of USDA for economics and social science, also was made a part of the Economics, Statistics, and Cooperatives Service. These economics divisions of ESCS carry out an extensive program of current statistics, analysis, and forecasting on: supply, consumption and use of agricultural products (both domestic and foreign), farm income, price spreads and marketing costs, farm population, land tenure and use, farming practices, supply and use of production inputs, farm real estate values and transfers, farm debt and assets, and international trade. Other important areas of work are in water resource planning, environmental impact

they are interested in economic indicators and performance measures of the food and fiber industries as well as commodity statistics.

Other institutions with interests in agricultural statistics are governments and universities, both of which are interested in the policies and programs that affect the structure and performance of the food and fiber industries and economic and social welfare of rural people. There is a vast array of natural resource, food, environmental, energy, economic and social policies and programs that regulate, support or impact in other ways on the agricultural industry and rural people. Researchers and policymakers in these public institutions are faced daily with issues that require information from the agricultural data system.

Responsible Agencies and Basic Core

Programs The organizations primarily responsible for the collection, analysis, and dissemination of agricultural statistics are (1) the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), (2) the U.S. Department of Commerce, and (3) State departments of agriculture.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Economics, Statistics, and Cooperatives Service

The Economics, Statistics and Cooperatives Service (ESCS) serves as the primary statistical and analytical agency for the Department of Agriculture. It was recently formed from four existing agencies. These were the Statistical Reporting Service, the Economic Research Service, the Farmer Cooperative Service and the Economic Management Support Center.

The statistics divisions, which were the former Statistical Reporting Service, are USDA's principal agencies for collecting and publishing data on domestic agriculture. This includes preparation of estimates pertaining to the current year's crops, livestock, poultry, dairy, prices, and other aspects of the agricultural economy. Most of these data are collected through numerous short surveys rather than comprehensive surveys of entire farm operations. Statistics are regularly provided at the national and State level and occasionally for counties. Reports are issued containing weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual data for a wide array of commodities or other data items. This continuous flow of data on domestic agriculture is produced in a very timely manner for assistance to analysts trying to provide continuous and up-to-date appraisal of the domestic agriculture economy.

agency responsible for facilitating U.S. agricultural trade.

assessment, and the economics of development of communities and services in rural areas.

Reports prepared by the economics divisions of ESCS are compiled in part from data collected by other agencies such as Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of the Interior and many areas of the Census Bureau. The broad coverage of subject matter by the economics divisions makes data from almost all other Federal departments useful to their mission. ESCS statistical estimates are also important to other agencies within and without the Department of Agriculture. One of the major examples of the latter is the use of ESCS estimates of farm income by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, Department of Commerce, in estimating components of U.S. gross national product and income.

Agricultural Marketing Service

The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is another program agency of USDA that is partially involved in providing statistics. AMS operates an extensive system to collect spot market price quotations at numerous markets on a daily basis. Livestock, fruit, vegetable, grain and other commodity markets are monitored, and information is disseminated by AMS through the various news media. The purpose of this information is to assist farmers and others in making day-to-day marketing decisions.

Forest Service

Agricultural Research Service

The Agricultural Research Service issues periodic reports on household food consumption and about once every 10 years sponsors a national survey of nutrition and food consumption. The food consumption survey, for which data has recently been collected, is of particular importance to the estimates made by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and the Department of Labor of the number of families in poverty and of the cost of various levels of the standard family budget.

The Forest Service maintains statistical information on area and condition of forest land, volume, and timber cuts, present consumption and probable future trends in requirements for forest products, costs and returns of timber growing, price and market information for forest products, and administrative statistics covering the national forests and State cooperative programs. Administrative Statistics

Data collected by agencies in administering or monitoring their programs prove to be useful to ESCS. The Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service data on tobacco marketing, for example, is used as a check on ESCS statistics. Land use and conservation needs data from the Soil Conservation Service are important to ESCS. Other examples are livestock slaughter data from the Packers and Stockyards Administration and railroad car loading and movement data from the Department of Transportation and industry sources.

Foreign Agricultural Service

U.S. Department of Commerce

Bureau of the Census

The Foreign Agricultural Service is responsible for maintaining a worldwide agricultural intelligence and reporting system to assist U.S. agricultural industry in foreign trade. This is done through a continuous program of reporting by agricultural attaches and officers located in posts throughout the world. Reports deal with estimates of commodity supplies and use, foreign government policies, analysis of supply and demand conditions, commercial trade relationships and market opportunities.

The Foreign Agricultural Service analyzes agricultural information essential to the assessment of foreign supply and demand conditions in order to provide estimates of the current situation and to forecast the export potential for specific U.S. agricultural commodities. FAS is also responsible for determining the utility and cost effectiveness of using satellite, meteorological and climatological data to predict global production of major crops.

Despite the important and widely used statistics on foreign agriculture compiled by FAS, their major mission is not to provide statistics. FAS is a program

The Bureau of the Census conducts the Census of Agriculture once every five years to enumerate all farm and ranch operations in the U.S. and outlying territories. Historically, the census was conducted by interviewers. Beginning with the 1969 census, data collection has been done by mail. County, state and national level data on acreage and production for most crops grown, livestock numbers by species, sales of commodities produced, expenditures, land use, irrigation and drainage, use of purchased inputs, and economic characteristics of the farm operation are collected and published. USDA data collected from a

data from the quinquennial Census of Agriculture are not frequent enough to be sufficient.

Current statistical information to accommodate particular needs of the States is provided through a joint effort by ESCS and individual State departments of agriculture or comparable organizations. Available State and Federal funds are combined under a cooperative agreement which yields current statistical information for both State and Federal Government use.

The agricultural data needs and interests within the respective States vary in subject matter and scope because of the relative importance of particular commodities. Funding by the States is also highly variable but correlated to a considerable extent with the relative importance of agriculture in a State's economy.

land area sampling frame was used to estimate degree of incompleteness in the 1969 and 1974 censuses.

The Census of Agriculture provides the only comprehensive detailed set of statistics on agriculture at the county level. The importance of these county statistics to data users was recently reaffirmed in a study of the needs and uses of census data. The comprehensive census survey of the whole farm operation also allows numerous important cross-tabulations by size of business, type of farm, land tenure classes, characteristics of the operator, and form of business organization. Thus, the census is valuable as an historical series, to describe the changes in the structure of agriculture over time. While it is useful for long-range evaluation, its frequency and pub. lication schedule mean that the Census of Agriculture must often be used in combination with other data sources for current policy analysis, particularly tha related to the production of agricultural com modities.

As the result of a recent law, the collection of data for the next two Censuses of Agriculture will be accelerated (four years after the previous census) so that, by 1982, the census will use the same reference date as the other economic censuses (e.g., manufacturing, mining, transportation, wholesale and retail trade, and services). The 1969 and 1974 Census of Agriculture programs included surveys of the agricultural services industry for the first time. These surveys provided useful data on this expanding industry although coverage of the industry was less than complete.

Data produced by other divisions of the Census Bureau are also very important in agricultural statistics. Monthly data on imports and exports of agricultural products and economic data on farm input, food processing and food wholesaling and retailing industries are examples. The census of population and housing and the census of governments also provide important information for statistics and analysis related to rural area development. Data collected by the Census Bureau for other agencies such as the Annual Housing Survey for the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Current Population Survey for the Department of Labor are also important in the analysis of conditions in rural

Important Problems and Improvements

Data on agriculture and rural areas covers a broad range of subjects and is needed for many private business and public policy decisions. As these decisions have become more complex and more important to economic stability and consumer and community welfare, the agricultural data system has come under increasing criticism. Increased costs of Federal commodity programs, significant increases in dependence on international markets, increases in domestic food prices, large fluctuations in income received from farming, and sharp increases in land values have been a few of the recent events that have placed increased demands on the data system. Other demands come from expanded programs to service the needs of rural people and communities such as improved housing, community facilities, and job opportunities, and from environmental problems and energy shortages.


Problems with the agricultural and rural data system have triggered a number of efforts to study, evaluate, and improve the data system. Some of the studies have been conducted by producers and users of agricultural and rural statistics as they increased their level of self-examination. The American Agricultural Economics Associations (AAEA), through the formation of an Economic Statistics Committee, has been one organization playing a lead role in encouraging the renewal and updating of agriculture and rural data systems.

This committee, aided by cooperation of ESCS in USDA, has had several task groups examine and recommend changes in specific data series or segments of the agricultural data system. Reports on the farm income accounts and the price spread,

State Departments of Agriculture

The USDA statistical system was not designed to accommodate the level of detail or coverage of specific commodities needed by all State governments. Developing most county-level data is considered to be the responsibility of each State, if

once each five years but provide consistent countylevel data for production and sales that can be aggregated and cross-tabulated with many other characteristics of the farm operation.

Supply and use data for commodities in many foreign countries are compiled by the Foreign Agriculture Service. These data are needed primarily to assess the adequacy of world food supplies and the potentials for trade in farm commodities.

market basket and market bill work have been published. A data workshop was held on agricultural prices, farm labor, nonfarm labor in rural areas, measurement of economic well-being of people engaged in farming, and measurement of capacity of the farm industry. These papers have also been published jointly by AAEA and ESCS. Each of these task force studies examined the primary uses of selected data series and the underlying concepts, definitions and data flows. The end products are a series of recommendations for improvement in the data series.

Other recent reports provide additional evaluation of agricultural statistics. One is the August, 1976 report Food Information Systems produced by the Office of Technology Assessment, U.S. Congress. This report addressed needs for improvements in the Census of Agriculture, in the quality of foreign commodity statistics, in the need for improved integration of the domestic and international supply and demand forecasts, in the availability of data on fertilizer stocks and production, and in the information available to assess human nutrition problems and needs. Another recent evaluation is the report by the Advisory Committee on Gross National Product Data Improvement, sponsored by the Office of Management and Budget, which includes a chapter on the farm income accounts. This chapter includes a number of recommendations for improving the measures of gross domestic product, proprietor's incomes, and personal incomes originating in the farm sector. Still more recommendations are included in other recent reports by the Federal Paperwork Commission and the General Accounting Office. Supply, Use and Price Data

A majority of the agricultural data system is devoted to providing supply, use and price data for the sector. These data have received major emphasis because of their importance as the basis for many private business decisions on production, marketing and pricing in a competitive and open market economic sector. These data are also very important in public policy analysis of price prospects and their economic implications.

Three major categories of supply, use and price data are included in the agricultural data system. The largest category is farm-produced commodities. A great variety of detailed quantity data are available on these commodities from ESCS and the Census Bureau. Most of the ESCS data are State and national estimates and are reported frequently during the year. Included are data on production intentions, production, disposition and use, inventories, imports and exports. Census data are only available

A second category of supply, use and price data is for resources and inputs used in production of farm commodities. Again, some county-level data are available from the Census of Agriculture each five years while more frequent data for States or the nation are available from ESCS. These data are available in far less detail than the commodity data and are compiled from a less consistent array of survey and estimating techniques. For example, data on labor use on farms are collected quarterly through a probability survey of farm operations while information on lending activity and capital use are collected at different time intervals from both lenders and borrowers and benchmarked each five years to Census of Agriculture data. Land market data are collected semi-annually by ESCS surveys of real estate brokers and lenders with Census of Agriculture data again used to benchmark land value estimates each five years. Physical information on acres of land by broad production capability classes and estimates of conservation needs are compiled periodically by the Soil Conservation Service of USDA.

The third category of supply, use and price data is for food items at retail and various stages of processing or distribution. Quantity data for this category are often derived as disappearance estimates from supply data for the farm commodities because no statistical surveys of consumption exist.

Price data are available in various forms for each of these categories. Daily market quotations for farm commodities are provided by the Market News Service of the Agricultural Marketing Service, USDA. Estimates for monthly, quarterly and annual prices received by farmers for their commodities are provided by ESCS. Similar data are provided by ESCS on resources and inputs used in farm production. Retail food price data are collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as part of their Consumer Price Index (CPI) program. The price spread between retail and the farm for major food items are derived from these price data by ESCS. These estimates include accounting for byproducts and waste, so equivalent items are priced at the farm and retail levels.

« PreviousContinue »