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Understanding American Agriculture: Challenges for the Agricultural Resource Management Survey
pesticide use, and farm income and assets find their way in tabular form into NASS publications and other agency products.
The role of ERS is less sharply drawn. At one level, ERS can be characterized as a consumer. Indeed, if a distinction were drawn between producer and consumer of the ARMS data within USDA, it would be appropriate, if not entirely accurate, to identify NASS as the producer and ERS as the consumer. But ERS is a very active and involved consumer. Because ERS considers ARMS to be vital to accomplishing its mission of research and analysis, the agency plays a significant role in driving ARMS content, particularly in areas that call for knowledge of the economics of agricultural production and the farm household.
Like NASS, ERS produces descriptive statistics, although its primary focus is analytical. To support its policy work and longer term research, ERS makes extensive use of multivariate models. A fundamental difference between descriptive and analytical work is that the former can often be computed using independent sources of information, whereas the latter typically requires the full set of variables collected from each unit observed. Thus, all other things being equal, analytical users tend to press for increasing the scope of a survey, while descriptive users may be more sensitive to respondent burden issues that may lead to nonresponse or other aspects of survey operations that would contribute to error and variability.
The influence of ERS is most strongly present in the development and analysis of the data from the Phase II and Phase III surveys. ERS has expertise in the development of information on environmental resource management and has worked collaboratively with NASS to frame the Phase II collection of data on chemical and pesticide use on cropland. The agency’s primary interest and ownership is over the Phase III survey operations, in which ARMS collects basic economic data on income, expenses, and debt annually.
The ARMS economic questionnaire supports an ERS program of data analysis on farmers’ use of particular marketing channels and on management decisions and farm household well-being, including operator demographics. By combining data from the Phase II and Phase III questionnaires for the overlapping portion of the sample, ERS is able to add value by making ARMS a very powerful survey for analyzing the relationship of the environmental and economic components of agricultural production.
Most of the funding for ARMS has traditionally come from NASS, although ERS contributes substantially and increasingly to the financing of the survey. The reimbursement from ERS totaled $6.75 million for the base survey in fiscal year (FY) 2005 and FY 2006. In FY 2005 and 2006, NASS funding continued at the FY 2003 level of $9.9 million. The cost of ARMS