Linking Federal Data on Agriculture: Pathways toward Better Understanding of 
Agricultural Sector Dynamics and Program Effectiveness: A Workshop
355 E Street, SW, Washington, DC
October 2, 2015

Co-sponsored by the USDA’s Economic Research Service and the 
Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics

Information on aspects of U.S. agriculture is abundant. The USDA alone conducts surveys of farm practices, farm and ranch operators, and farm households, maintains geographical data bases on farmed land, tracks animal health and veterinary practices, and maintains records on participants in conservation, price support, lending, nutrition assistance and crop insurance programs. Federal agencies beyond USDA collect and maintain in geographical information systems data on the physical and quality features of natural resources potentially affected by farming and ranching. IRS data on Farm Sole Proprietorship are collected on Schedule F of Form 1040. Other IRS administrative data on farms include farm net income or loss. The Census Bureau collects data on a wide spectrum of agricultural and agriculturally-related businesses. BLS collects workforce statistics, unemployment and earnings data, work-related fatalities, injuries and illnesses, import and export prices, and workplace trends for crop production and animal production sectors and industries providing support for agriculture.

Each statistical survey, physical survey, and administrative data set has unique uses and value on its own. But the ability to link and examine cross-series phenomena opens huge possibilities for a better understanding of independent agricultural program effectiveness, cross-program interactions, and sectoral dynamics. Recent research papers in the economics literature on inequality, social mobility, and health care policy have demonstrated the value of building data sets that include administrative data, information about local conditions, and links to survey data.

These data sets can be very large (approaching big data sizes) and take advantage of IT improvements. Building new data requires investment not just in IT, but also in the definition and consistency of terms, bases for accurate linkage, and access protocols. For example including program participation data and location information on farmers or ranchers could raise privacy questions. However, many potential strategies capitalize on existing information and provide a way to add value to current information and meet research needs with stable or declining federal budgets for statistical activities. The overall goal of the project is to achieve better data linkage for socially beneficial illumination of agricultural structure and performance and agricultural program effects and interactions.

A Workshop was held October 2, 2015. Its objectives were to
  • Highlight potential benefits of federal agricultural data linkage and integration;
  • Explore the bases for successes in agricultural data linkage and integration
  • Pinpoint obstacles to wider success through discussion between data users and agency producers 
  • Identify needed investments and other actions that could be taken to enhance socially beneficial agricultural data linkage and integration 

The program for the Workshop, a list of workshop participants, and copies of slide presentations from the workshop are available here. A report on the workshop and resultant recommendations is forthcoming.

 PRESENTATIONS:  (please click on the presentation title, PDF will open in a new tab)

 9:30   Presentations on and discussion of conservation and farm program linkage 
Moderator – Marca Weinberg, Director, Resource and Rural Economic Division, ERS 
12:45   Presentations on and discussion of linked statistical analysis of structure and performance  
Moderator: James MacDonald, Chief, Structure, Technology, and Productivity Branch, ERS