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Surveying the nation's agriculture

Starting May 27, farmers and ranchers in North Dakota will hear from the National Agriculture Statistics Service in regards to their operations in an effort to better form agricultural policy.

North Dakota Ag Commissioner Roger Johnson urges producers to provide the NASS surveyors with the best information they can.

"It's all about having good information and you only get good information if you get decent response rates," Johnson said. "So I would just encourage farmers to participate and fill in the survey's because that's the only way to get reliable data."

During the upcoming study, which will run from May 27 to June 12, approximately 39.4 million square miles of land throughout the state will be accounted for.

NASS will be contacting 40,000 producers nationwide in just about two weeks to inquire about information regarding the use of their land and agricultural activities.

"Every state will do the exact same thing, it just depends on how many people they have to contact," director of the North Dakota NASS field office, Darin Jantzi said. "Obviously Texas will have to contact many more people than we will."

The sampling is conducted randomly, but Jantzi said it is done in such a way that it represents the greater population of a given state and of the overall nation by the modeling they utilize.

"The June Area Survey is one of the largest and most comprehensive surveys conducted each year by NASS," Jantzi said. "By providing an in-depth look at land uses and agricultural activities, the survey provides the most timely, accurate and useful information on the current condition of U.S. agriculture. Understanding that the information we gather is only as good as the source it comes from, we are counting on the most reliable, frontline source of information for this survey, the producers themselves."

Not every county in the country will be necessarily represented in the study, but every type of production area will be sampled so they can collect a representative sample.

The information collected by NASS will include crop acreage, biotech crop acreage, grain stocks, livestock inventory, cash rents, land values and value of sales.

Jantzi said the information provided by respondents is confidential by law and no names will be associated with the numbers published in the final report at the end of June.

The information gathered will be analyzed and used by several different groups following the publishing of the report, ranging from economists that are trying to gauge how prices will be affected to railroads, which will look at the information to plan train transport for the commodities.

"We consider it a base survey for what we are going to do for the remainder of the year," Jantzi said. "The report that we put out at the end of June is always heavily read."

State and federal farm legislation will also be determined, in part, by what is found by the study.

"That data that comes from these surveys is designed to help create our farm programs," Johnson said. "In making sure that we get good, solid, accurate data on what's going on in agriculture, we can better form policy."

A lot of it factors in simple supply and demand economics according to Jantzi.

For example, Jantzi said in the last few years, the amount of corn and soybeans being raised in North Dakota has risen significantly because of ethanol development.

They can plug that change into their models and see how it has affected the state and country as a whole.

NASS trusts their models mainly due to the fact that they have over 50 years of historical data also plugged into the models and is used in the analysis.

"This is just statistical methodology," Jantzi said. "Where if we know the information that shows that this guy plants so much corn we will then analyze and expand that data to show how much corn will be produced by other people."

Johnson pointed out the information is tremendously useful to farmers when determining their management plans. Farmers can use the information to know when and what they should grow, and to help determine how to market.

"This data is useful in determining what the actual situation is so we know what is quote, unquote normal", Johnson said. "It gives you feedback on if some of these policies are working."

The many production options available for producers in the state also makes the information valuable to North Dakota farmers.

"The nice thing about North Dakota is that you've got so many different options," Jantzi said. "If you want to try something it will probably grow.

Jantzi and Johnson said there is little reason for producers to not participate if asked and said it will help them voice their opinion and make better decisions for their operations.

"A lot of times the farmers like doing it because we go out there with an aerial photo of their land and they like to look at that," Jantzi said. "We generally get a pretty good response on it...It's the farmer's opportunity to say what they voice their opinion."

"I just know that with the job I've got, if I don't have good data, it's hard to make good decisions," Johnson said. "It's just like it is for a regular need good data. You can't just do those things blind and expect that you're going to stay in business."