The availability of an up-to-date register of farms and farm holdings is considered an important feature of a good infrastructure for agricultural statistics in developed countries and is seen as the basis for a coherent system and also, if coordinated with national business registers, a tool contributing to the integration of agricultural information with that of other sectors. The fact that farm registers are often not included in business registers, or are kept separately, poses problems when constructing the sample frames for the surveys. The European Union has experienced technical and coordination problems with updating EU-level farm registers and protection of individual data. Several of the countries in the UNECE region, in relation to the agricultural census, have developed a farm register. A farm register provides a basic tool as a frame for sampling and, provided that appropriate information is included, it may permit effective sample design with stratification by size, type and location. It could also call into question the cost-effectiveness of full agricultural censuses. However, the coverage of a farm register should be carefully analysed, otherwise the costs for keeping it up to date could be too high. A possibility would be to improve household statistics to contain data on subsistence farming, i.e. small farm holdings not producing for the market, but merely or mainly for their own consumption.
Most recent experiences show that the overall support for such a register at EU level - preparing the way for EU sampling and EU surveys - is not yet sufficient. This way of substantially reducing the burden and allowing a linking of sources has until now been possible only in a limited number of countries. The development of farm registers with at least a minimum of common coverage (e.g. containing only the market-oriented farms as described above) could be regarded as an ideal situation and as an effective response to the future. In the EU, it is not (yet) possible to discuss a regulation including farm registers because of specificities in the agricultural statistical systems of the member states. The fact that a common approach to farm registers is not yet possible can be considered a serious problem but also one of the most important challenges for further development, especially given the need for effectiveness and the desire to reduce the burden on farmers. For future strategic planning in this domain, an overview of the countries that have and those that do not have a farm register would be useful. Where a farm register is available its characteristics should be described, and when no farm register is available an indication should be given of alternatives on which the census of agriculture is based.
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