International Year of Statistics: The Uses and Impacts of Agricultural Statistics

March 17, 2013

in Blog

By Dr. Cynthia Clark, Administrator, National Agricultural Statistics Service; and Dr. Mary Bohman, Administrator, Economic Research Service

While it may not be broadly known, agricultural statistics are at the center of many aspects of our lives—feeding the world, ensuring a safe food supply, providing water for societal needs, promoting health and nutrition, caring for our environment, responding to climate change, and maintaining an adequate supply of energy. Statistics provide a solid base for decision-making on all of these issues and the International Year of Statistics in 2013 celebrates the role data plays in our everyday lives.

Take the work that we do at USDA, for example. Every year, our agencies– the National Agricultural Statistics Service and the Economic Research Service– jointly conduct the Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS). The survey is an ambitious effort in which we ask tens of thousands of farmers and ranchers for detailed information about their farming businesses. The data we receive from this survey tell us about the economic well-being of U.S. farmers and ranchers, soil management practices, amounts of fertilizer and nutrients applied, water-management practices, and responses to fuel and fertilizer price changes. This information is taken into account by public decision-makers who craft policies that affect the farm sector.

While these statistics are important to the research and analysis mission of USDA, the impact of the information we gather extends far beyond the agriculture department and the farm sector. The information we derive from survey respondents helps the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, for example, to calculate the agriculture portion of the U.S. gross domestic product. The Environmental Protection Agency uses the agricultural chemical usage data obtained from ARMS to shape some of its programs. The results of this survey even go into parts of the formulas to allocate tax dollars and to bring improvements to rural America.

The ARMS undertaking highlights that statistics involves many aspects of our lives. It illustrates why statistical knowledge is important, and both of our agencies are committed to furthering statistical knowledge. The International Year of Statistics, which we celebrate in 2013, provides us with a strong opportunity to work with our counterparts in other parts of the world on demonstrating how the field of statistics makes lives better not just in the United States, but for everyone around the globe. In the coming year, statisticians around the world have a unique opportunity to feature the many ways our societies and our lives depend upon data in our information-based world.

Throughout this year we look forward to bringing you stories that highlight individuals who have found rewarding careers in the field of statistics.