data gathered through these objective yield surveys are used to forecast yields or project production (i.e., for wheat, cotton, soybean, potato, burley tobacco, onion, and a variety of fruit and nut crops). When the farmer harvests fields containing the plots, enumerators make their final visits to the sample plots to determine harvesting losses and estimate net yields. With new authority to conduct the Census of Agriculture, formerly in the Bureau of Census, NASS will collect information on the acreage in various farm uses, crops and livestock produced, and sales of agricultural products, as well as socioeconomic information on each farm operator and his or her family.
Information gathered by satellites supplements that collected by enumerators. Current satellite technology (LANDSAT and NOAA-AVHRR) applied to crop estimates has certain limitations; more frequent coverage is needed, and satellite scans can be rendered ineffective by cloud cover. Until commercial satellites overcome these restrictions, the NASS remote sensing program will remain limited. However, the data are excellent for timely views of large areas that are behind or ahead of previous seasons, or areas that are under stress caused by drought, excessive moisture, or disease. Widespread adoption of precision agriculture methods could provide more detailed data from a larger number of producers, while integrating soil and weather data which could lead to greater understanding of the causes of spatial and temporal variations in crop and livestock production. While the potential for such data collection is currently limited, NASS should investigate possibilities for precision agriculture data to augment conventional data collection methods in the future.
Economic Research Service
The Economic Research Service, working with NASS, annually collects data on farm costs and returns, land values, and resource and environmental aspects of farm production practices such as fertilizer and pesticide use. Surveys are designed jointly with NASS, and NASS enumerators collect the data in regular and special surveys. Geographic information systems and farm record databases developed on the farm could provide information superior to current surveys because they would provide data on soils, weather, and other important variables integrated directly with the economic data. Currently, physical factors affecting economic decision making must be inferred from other data sources.
National Resources Conservation Service
The Natural Resources Conservation Service (in addition to the Cooperative Soil Survey) conducts the National Resources Inventory (NRI), an area-based statistical sample of land cover and use, soil erosion,