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Understanding American Agriculture: Challenges for the Agricultural Resource Management Survey
includes an assessment of the adequacy of the ARMS data to illuminate these issues.
PRIORITY USES OF ARMS DATA
The ARMS program represents a significant investment of time, talent, respondent burden, and resources. To justify this investment, the survey must be responsive to a set of core requirements that address legislative, programmatic, and analytical needs. These core requirements build on those of the predecessor surveys, which conveyed into ARMS when it was established in 1996, and have been supplemented by more contemporary and changing requirements.1
The task of meeting these core requirements translates into a series of priorities for the ARMS program. The data items needed to meet the core requirements have largely been maintained and protected by making sure these items are included before any other items are added. For the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) and the Economic Research Service (ERS), these priorities affect the content of the questionnaires, which in turn are instrumental to the survey’s ability to meet the core requirements.
USDA is required by Congress, through both authorizing and appropriation legislation, to produce a sizeable portion of the data items that are included in ARMS. Cost-of-production data are required by several pieces of legislation, and one piece of legislation is very specific. The U.S. Code states that the “Secretary of Agriculture, in cooperation with the land grant colleges, commodity organizations, general farm organizations, and individual farmers, shall conduct a cost of production study of the wheat, feed grain, cotton, and dairy commodities under the various production practices and establish a current national weighted average cost of production. This study shall be updated annually and shall include all typical variable costs, including interest costs, a return on fixed costs, and a return for management” (U.S. Code, Title 7).
Environmental and food safety legislation call for data on chemical use on field crops. The Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990 and the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 require NASS to collect data on field crop chemical use and publish those data annually (in the Agricul-
The predecessor surveys of ARMS were the Farm Costs and Returns Survey (FCRS) and the Cropping Practices Survey. The predecessors to the FCRS were the Farm Production Expenditures Survey and the Cost of Production surveys. The household component was added to the FCRS in 1988 with the Farm Operator Resource version.