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Workers harvest wine grapes. The National Agricultural Statistics Service is focusing on its biannual Agricultural Labor Survey.

NASS turns attention to farm labor survey

Although the COVID-19 pandemic mandated suspension of in-person data collection, NASS continued to collect data online.

For those who remember black and white TV days, there was Sgt. Joe Friday, the Los Angeles cop on Dragnet who made famous the phrase — “Just the facts, ma’am, all we want are the facts.”

And that’s what you get from the National Agricultural Statistics Service whether it involves the annual final Grape Crush report on poundage or brix from vineyards in California’s 17 counties, the number of pistachio trees in the West, or any one of a zillion other topics where precise numbers are needed to make informed decisions.

And no coronavirus is going to slow that process down either. Billed as “The Fact Finders of U.S. Agriculture” — from calves borne to hogs slaughtered, from peaches picked to cattle raised — the numbers crunchers continually come through.

“We’re doing everything we can to keep all parties safe and to continue producing data that American agriculture, from grape growers to avocado farmers, count on,” says Jim Barrett of the Department of Agriculture’s NASS administration office in Washington, D.C.

“Crop and livestock production data and economic reports provide indicators of our food and feed supply and show the financial condition of U.S. agriculture, so it’s critical to know how everything looks coming into each growing season,” Barrett says. “Our nation’s farmers are counting on us and we’re here to help.”

Now that grape growers have received and digested their preliminary, and then, final, crush reports for 2019 harvest, NASS efforts have shifted to conducting their biannual Agricultural Labor Survey, traditionally done in the second half of April with information about hired labor collected from 3,500 farmers and ranchers, specifically in this case from Arizona, New Mexico, and four other regional states (Colorado, Utah, Montana, Wyoming).

Assessing labor needs

“The early part of the year is the time when agricultural producers plan out the rest of their growing season and it’s a great time to assess on-farm labor needs,” according to William Meyer, who directs the NASS Mountain Region field office out of Colorado.

“Data that farm operators provide allows federal policymakers to base farm labor policies on accurate information,” he says.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic mandated suspension of in-person data collection, NASS continued to collect data online. 

“We’re making every effort to produce the U.S. crop, livestock, and economic statistic the nation counts on,” emphasized NASS Administrator Hubert Hamer.

“To do that responsibly, we are following guidance to slow the spread of coronavirus and protect the safety and health of all concerned. It is now more important than ever for everyone who receives a survey to complete it promptly online and encourage others to do the same.

“If we’re able to collect enough data over the coming weeks and conditions are such that estimates can be established, we’ll continue to publish all of our various reports on schedule,” Hamer added.

NASS will gather, analyze, and publish the survey results in the May 28th Farm Labor report which will then become available online at www.nass.usda.gov/Publications.

Whether you’re monitoring bud break in anticipation of another challenging year in a vineyard, watching blossoms as nut tree orchards unfold a new season, or rounding up cattle, NASS needs your numbers.

“To produce our vital reports, we need strong response and because a lot of work is currently being done remotely, this year’s user-friendly online effort is providing data faster,” says Barrett.

“We’re happy to help producers with their surveys by phone or e-mail. Producers are asked to respond online at agcounts.usda.gov to minimize the need for follow-up.”

For more news on pests, disease management and other issues affecting vineyards, subscribe to the bi-monthly newsletter The Grape Line.

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