Data is crucial for any well functioning market. Producers, investors and consumers need to understand market trends and dynamics in order to make sound business decisions. This is as true for farmers and ranchers as it is for Wall Street executives. However, despite being an over $12 billion a year industry, the local and regional food sector has been hampered by a lack of useful data and metrics.
The near total absence of data on local and regional food economies has likely limited, or at least slowed the sectors’ potential growth. In fact, farmers and entrepreneurs routinely encounter challenges when applying for loans and accessing credit or risk management tools because they are unable to provide the necessary data about their sector’s markets and prices and the growth of their types of businesses.
Fortunately, things are finally poised to change. The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) is launching a first-of-its-kind Local Food Marketing Practices Survey that will collect benchmark data on the production, marketing and sales of local food and farm products. In order to provide farmers with the data they need to launch and grow successful businesses, however, NASS first needs farmer input.
NASS has mailed the survey to a random sample of 44,300 producers across the country who are engaged in local production and marketing. The survey will ask producers questions on the value of local food sales conducted through specific marketing channels, such as farmers markets, community supported agriculture (CSA), institutions (schools, hospitals or restaurants) and food hubs. Additional questions on the value of crop and livestock sales, farm expenses, and federal farm program participation will provide key benchmark figures to inform federal funding for local food programs. Data collected from the sample will be used to generate benchmark figures for the entire population of farmers engaged in local and regional food systems.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) strongly encourages all farmers who receive the survey to fill it out. Survey recipients have until May 2, 2016 to return the completed form by mail, or to complete the survey online.
After May 2, NASS may follow up directly with survey recipients in order to ensure thorough data collection. All responses to the survey will be kept confidential.
Results from the survey will be released in December 2016.
We also encourage sustainable food and farming organizations to share this story and opportunity with their farmer members and help get the word out. NSAC has long supported the creation of tools that would provide much-needed economic data to local farmers and producers, and we know that data is best when it is informed by as many farmer voices as possible.
The Local Food Survey, created as part of the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative, will provide valuable information and insight into the impact that USDA programs have had in bolstering the burgeoning local and regional food sector. The survey will also provide much-needed data to state and local agencies that promote local food markets, as well as non-governmental farmer/agricultural organizations that are working to build marketing strategies around the growing interest in local food production.