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"The National Agricultural Statistics Service, an arm of the USDA, should improve the way it estimates its county crop data and cash rents, according to a new report published today by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. The report outlines a 2025 vision for the statistics agency to ensure that estimates are more precise, transparent and reproducible. It would involve shifting to model-based estimates that use survey data as well as data from other sources like administrative files, satellites, remote sensing and precision agriculture. Historically, NASS has relied on county-level surveys to estimate information such as planted and harvested acres, yields for various commodities, and cash-rental rates for cropland. This data is then used by other USDA agencies to help determine farm subsidies and crop insurance indemnities. But NASS, along with most statistical agencies, are seeing declines in survey response rates. As a result, some counties don't have official NASS estimates for crops and cash rents, and USDA agencies that use them are forced to turn to another data set. "Those alternative estimates are not as justifiable as the estimates from sound probability samples or consistent, high-quality, model-based approaches," the report said. Therefore, the report also recommends that NASS develop a "geo-referenced" farm-level database, or one that is based on location. That way, the location of a farm being surveyed can be used to tie together multiple data sets. Improving NASS data may resolve a problem for farmers participating in Agriculture Risk Coverage program, who report wide disparities in subsidy payments from county to county."

Posted October 12th, 2017