The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) wants to get more farmers to complete its surveys after responses fell to a record low of 66.5 percent in a Sept. 30 grain stocks report, agency officials said on Tuesday.
The government is concerned about dwindling response rates in part because crop yield data at the county level is one factor used to calculate compensation payments to farmers under the 2014 Farm Bill.
“Certainly it is something that we are aware of, we are paying attention to, and that we are spending some time trying to make sure we can get that boosted back up,” Lance Honig, crops branch chief of the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, said at an annual USDA meeting in Chicago.
The USDA surveys tens of thousands of U.S. farmers. Their responses about planted and harvested acres, yield and on-farm stocks help determine production estimates for dozens of crops including corn and soybeans.
Of the 66,000 farmers surveyed for the Sept. 30 report, only 66.5 percent responded, the lowest on record and down from rates of more than 79 percent seen over the past decade, USDA chief economist Robert Johansson said in a radio interview last month.
Survey responses improved slightly to 71.3 percent for an Oct. 12 crop production report, which was up from 69.9 percent from the same report released in October 2015, a USDA spokeswoman said on Tuesday.
Honig said the USDA had formed an internal committee to improve response rates, and was also working with farmer groups such as the National Corn Growers Association to encourage farmers to respond to the surveys.
Some analysts speculated that farmers were reluctant to report huge crop yields that could potentially depress prices. Chicago Board of Trade soybean futures fell last week after the USDA projected a record-large U.S. soybean yield.
“It’s a lot worse in a year when they (farmers) think it’s going to hurt them,” said Alan Brugler, president of Brugler Marketing.