By DOUG SCHMITZ
DES MOINES, Iowa — Over the next few months, the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) will be contacting farmers and ranchers to gather information for the annual Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS).
“ARMS is our primary tool for gauging the financial condition and production practices on American farms and ranches,” said Greg Thessen, director of the NASS Iowa field office.
According to the USDA, the results of the survey will serve as a baseline for numerous federal policies and programs that affect U.S. farms and farm families. By participating in this survey, Thessen added, U.S. farmers “directly impact the decisions that affect them, their families and their operations.”
Conducted jointly with the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS), ARMS surveyors will contact nearly 33,000 producers nationwide, (1,800 in Iowa) between January and March in an effort to obtain the most accurate data.
To date, the ARMS is the only national survey that provides observations of “field-level farm practices and the economics of the farm businesses operating the field (or dairy herd, greenhouse, nursery, poultry house, etc.).”
The survey will ask about the characteristics of U.S. farm operators and their households (i.e., age, education, occupation, farm and off-farm work, types of employment, family living expenses) – all collected in a representative sample. In addition to household characteristics, farmers will be asked to provide data on such categories as their operating expenditures and production costs in order to understand the current financial state of agriculture.
“As you may know, the NASS is currently also conducting the mandatory Census of Agriculture, which occurs every five years,” Thessen said. “To make it easier on farmers, responding to the ARMS fulfills the growers’ 2012 Census of Agriculture obligations.
“Decision-makers from all facets of U.S. agriculture will use the collective information from the ARMS to answer questions and make important decisions concerning the economic viability of American agriculture, the rural economy and other emerging issues. That’s why it is imperative for all farmers contacted by the NASS to provide responses and help shape the future of U.S. agriculture.”
The ERS uses ARMS data to publish annual estimates of average income for U.S. farm households. Annual cost-of-production estimates for more than 15 agricultural commodities are also produced from ARMS data and used in analyzing farm commodity prices.
The ARMS fulfills a Congressional mandate that USDA provide annual cost-of-production estimates for commodities covered under farm-support legislation, as well as provide data regarding chemical use on field crops, required under farm legislation.
Moreover, ARMS data are essential to the USDA, Congressional, administration and industry decision-makers when weighing alternative policies and programs that touch the farm sector or affect farm families. ARMS data are released or revised twice a year.
In preparing the Annual Report on Family Farms, required by the Food and Agriculture Act of 1977, the ERS draws on ARMS data for information on topics such as:
•Farm participation in agricultural programs, and the distribution of farm program payments
•Structure and organization of farms, including family and non-family ownership
•Use of new production technologies and other management practices
•Farm use of credit
•Farmers’ participation in off-farm employment
•Identifying the characteristics of producers purchasing crop insurance
“It is hard to overestimate the impact the responses to the ARMS can have, since this survey is the primary tool for federal, state and local government representatives, and all major farm and ranch sector stakeholders to gauge the financial condition of American farms and ranches,” said Dean Groskurth, director of the NASS Nebraska field office.
Information provided by respondents in the survey is confidential by law, and the NASS said it safeguards the confidentiality of all responses, ensuring no individual respondent or operation can be identified.
The economic data gathered in ARMS will be published in the annual Farm Production Expenditures report on Aug. 2. For more information, visit www.nass.usda.gov