Even with these additions, much of what researchers need is simply not available on the questionnaire, nor is it available in a form that could be easily added to the individual record from other sources. Much of the needed data will have to be collected anew.
ARMS managers have put in place a capability to introduce ad hoc questions about “hot topics.” A more formal recognition of the need to collect supplemental information as a regular part of ARMS might be useful. For example, a section of the questionnaire could be set aside for the collection of special items, and provision could be made for soliciting input from the general user community for items to be collected, perhaps on a cost-reimbursable basis. One model of such an arrangement is the Current Population Survey, which provides the opportunity to add questions with cost reimbursement by the organization that commissions the supplemental collection.
Because such data collection could be seen as ancillary to the central purpose of ARMS, efforts would need to be devoted to special training for enumerators and to motivating respondents about the particular importance of the data. The overall burden of collecting supplemental information might be reduced if collection were limited to specific subgroups, such as farms in a particular type of watershed.
Although ARMS is already perceived as a survey with a high level of respondent burden, additional data collection may well be justified if there are issues of sufficiently great importance that require joint analysis with other data already collected in the survey.
Recommendation 4.3: NASS and ERS should explore the collection of auxiliary information on a formal basis, as well as the feasibility of enriching the ARMS data files with information from administrative data sources, geospatial data, and the like.