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Survey benefits all in the ag industry

DICKINSON - Information is a powerful ally. Producers can provide information about what they do and need done through a nationwide survey which evaluates and informs those in the agricultural industry and government on how best to institute change across the state and nation.

The Agricultural Resource Management Study (ARMS) is given by the North Dakota Field Office of the United States Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service. It is done by phone, the Internet or mail in March and early April.

The survey began in 1996, and was once called the Farm Costs and Returns Survey (FCRS) which began in 1985. The data series goes back to 1985, said Kara Hagemeister with the state field office. Hagemeister is the group leader of the survey section.

"Historically it's been done at this time (of year)," Hagemeister said. "What makes it a good time in late winter or early spring is that with a lot of questions producers need their taxes done to answer them."

The ARMS gives a snapshot on the financial status of rural America, she added. The USDA Economic Research Service Agency or ERS requested a survey be created, she said.

Individual producer reports represent 50-100 similar operations and all individually reported data is held strictly confidential. Data will come from about 33,500 farms.

Hagemeister cannot disclose exactly how many surveys get turned in due to her office's confidentiality policy.

"It's the only complete report that shows the financial well being of producers throughout the country," Hagemeister said. "We get sufficient reports on a nationally and regional level. North Dakota's data is included under the Plains region."

At Hagemeister's office, the information comes in, but she and others strictly deal with the numbers.

"The ERS summarizes the data and analyze it putting it into different forms than the way we produce it," she said. "The ERS interprets the data with reports published from it. Over time the survey developed into the form it is now."

The survey has become more detailed and had to change questions to match the changing agricultural industry, Hagemeister added.

Results from this survey serve agriculture in many ways, she added.

The data from the ARMS will be a resource for policymakers to determine federal assistance in the agriculture industry and include economic statistics for elected officials drafting the new farm bill. Farm organizations use the results to create and support farm policy and producers can use it to generate change with their own operations to fit the needs and demands of the industry.

There are 30 enumerators who work on the survey in the state and more than 1,000 work on it nationwide.

"We are conducting the state workshop from Feb. 20-22 to train the enumerators who will be contacting the farmers and ranchers," Hagemeister said. "The enumerators will be conducting interviews from Feb. 25 through April 11."

The survey's results are published in the annual Farm Production Expenditures Report being released Aug. 7, 2008. It includes charts, tables and a narrative, Hagemeister said.

According to literature on the survey, only statistical totals are published for selected geographic regions and the nation. The survey is not conducted in Hawaii and Alaska.

Producers are asked about their farming operating costs, capital improvements, assets and debts for agricultural production, farm-related income, government payments, off-farm income and operator and household characteristics.

Also this year the National Agricultural Statistics Service is conducting the 2007 Agriculture Census which is done every five years and the information provided with the ARMS will assist in the census.