By Dan Kerestes
Growing up on a small general crop and livestock farm in central Minnesota cultivated my enthusiasm for agriculture. Even then I knew I wanted to do something related to agriculture but I also knew the value of getting a good education. I attended the University of Minnesota to earn my undergraduate degree, after which I earned a Master’s of Science degree at North Dakota State University.
College provided me with skills in mathematics and agriculture but like most college graduates, no job. This is where the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture came into the picture. I joined the agency’s North Dakota field office as an agricultural statistician, allowing me to keep in touch with agriculture. Next I worked in the Idaho field office and then on to Washington, D.C. where I worked in both crops and livestock areas, finally settling into my current position as chief of the livestock branch in 2001.
In this position, I oversee a team of statisticians who analyze and process tremendous amounts of data to ensure that our agency’s statistics always are accurate. And this is no small task. For example, the June Hogs & Pigs Survey that sampled about 7,500 farmers across the country involved days of number crunching and analyses to make sure that we publish the Quarterly Hogs and Pigs report. NASS collected responses through June 18; after which the data was summarized leaving my team just seven working days to prepare the estimates for the current inventory as well as insight into future sow farrowings for the entire nation.
In addition to working with livestock data, I serve as a liaison between NASS and livestock producers, analysts, researchers and agribusinesses that produce, purchase or store livestock and livestock products. While these relationships require a lot of work, they are the most rewarding aspects of my position. I hear firsthand just how much folks in the livestock industry appreciate what we do and just how much impact statistics can have on this important sector.
For example take the monthly Milk Production report. It measures the volume of milk produced and impacts future supply and prices. The weekly Broiler Hatchery report is the only gauge for predicting how much chicken meat will be available for consumption. The Cold Storage report keeps track of both crops and livestock items that are stored for future use. With more than 450 commodity reports being issued on a weekly, monthly and annual basis, it is no surprise that most producers, co-ops, traders and brokers are touched by the information released by NASS.
Seeing this impact, that’s when I know I chose the right career. The work I and everyone on my team does has a direct impact on the entire U.S. agriculture industry. That’s what makes it all worthwhile.
Kerestes is NASS’s livestock branch chief.