Farm structure surveys

The farm structure survey (FSS) is considered in UNECE countries to be the backbone of the agricultural statistics system. Together with agricultural censuses, FSSs make it possible to undertake policy and economic analysis at a detailed geographical level. This type of analysis at regular time intervals is considered essential. In the EU, several simplifications have been made in recent years. From 2010 the frequency of FSSs will be reduced from every two to every three years. The decennial agricultural census carried out within the FAO framework will take place in most UNECE countries by 2010. Furthermore, not all the variables are subject to detailed geographical or temporal analysis. This allows the regular FSSs to focus on a set of core variables and to be combined with specific modules with less geographical detail and eventually more subject detail. In the coming years, such a system with a base FSS and a set of specific modules on, for example, use of fertilizers and production methods will be developed. This method is considered to deliver an important contribution to reducing the response burden. In opposition to this development, however, is the increased pressure to add new variables and items to the questionnaire. These new demands stem from the new developments mentioned above - production methods, water usage, etc.

For the EU countries, the design and basis content of the FSS is regulated by European law. For many member states, the survey instrument is an ideal tool to which can be added some country-specific questions. This so-called 'gold plating' is a topic in many of the discussions on the burden of statistics, but also an issue that implicitly generates a more effective use of the survey instrument. In light of this, further extensions of the scope of surveys are in principle not recommended. Furthermore, decision-makers should be informed on the substantial costs of agricultural surveys, especially when no administrative data are available.

In Brazil, the situation is in principle similar but in its implementation is more advanced than in the EU. The integration of the National Address List for Statistical Purposes with the Registers of the Census of Agriculture has allowed the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) to construct the first list frame of productive units in completely computerized form. This list will gather data on all of the country's 5.2 million agricultural producers, with their respective geographical coordinates. On the other hand, the rural area which encompasses all the sectors surveyed by the Census of Agriculture will form the Area Frame including all the information surveyed. Both list and area frame will be able to function as a source for the selection of the agricultural holdings to be researched by agricultural surveys based on probability sampling. These surveys, combined with the current surveys, will make up the National Brazilian Agriculture Statistics System which is presently being developed.

An issue that has recently attracted much discussion in the context of the new EU Farm Structure Survey Regulation and of the preparations for the new regulations on crops and on meat and livestock is the reference to geographic entities. From the descriptions above - and also from knowledge of the Brazilian and US situation - it is clear that there is increased demand for small-area estimates and for data that allow the description of land use and rural development on a small scale. Such detail is also required especially for agri-environmental indicators. Geocoding or the reference to small geographical entities is, however, an issue that is discussed with respect to both confidentiality and increased burden.

The FSS in the EU is in the census years upgraded to cover all farms and holdings. For the EU and most of its neighboring countries this will be held in 2010. For example, in Armenia, Belarus, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine the agricultural censuses are intended to be carried out in the foreseeable future. In recent years a number of CIS countries have already carried out agricultural censuses: Kyrgyzs-tan in 2002, Georgia in 2004, Azerbaijan in 2005, Kazakhstan in 2006, and Russia in 2006. As a result of these censuses valuable information on the state and development of agriculture (both nationally and regionally) was obtained. For example, data on a number of agricultural enterprises were updated and can be used for planning and organizing different sample surveys.

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