StatsCan seeks alternatives to phone surveys

Agency listens to farmers annoyed by phone calls and pursues other data sources, but analysts worry about frequency of reports

If farmers are annoyed by Statistics Canada’s requests to answer surveys, they might be happier in future.

But some analysts urge StatsCan to move cautiously if it intends to do fewer farmer surveys.

“In terms of making markets work and making price discovery, we have to be very cautious about changing reporting structures and things like that,” said Bruce Burnett, Glacier FarmMedia’s director of markets and weather information, during a Nov. 14 panel discussion at Statistics Canada’s Talking Stats session.

Earlier, StatsCan’s chief statistician, Anil Arora, suggested his agency might reduce farmer surveys but add digital sources of information to come up with crop progress, acreage and other reports on which markets rely.

“The agency is moving past a survey-first approach to reduce the burden on farmers and provide timely and relevant statistics through other data sources,” said Arora.

“There is a potential of Statistics Canada using these data instead of surveying respondents directly.”

Arora said the agency is already using data from provincial crop insurance authorities and satellites to get a better sense of what crops are on what acres.

Satellite data could provide far more, Arora said, especially if “nano-satellites” provide granular data down to even the three-to-five metre level.

“This could help farmers to react more quickly to stress in their crop,” he said.

Drones could also be incorporated in future data collection, with the status of crops, hail damage, acreage and input use being potential areas of surveillance.

Sandrine Prasil, assistant director of StatsCan’s agricultural statistics section, said the agency has begun speaking with companies that gather farmer information “to see how it could work.”

Burnett said the best improvement StatsCan could make for farmers would be more information releases and faster releases. Canada has relatively few reports compared to the United States.

“When you’re riding tillerless for three or four months in a market, that can lead to some, let’s say, poor price discovery,” said Burnett.

He urged StatsCan to quickly begin covering new crops like cannabis because those sorts of new crop industries have a desperate need for good information. The agency was slow to begin collecting pulse crop information in the 1980s.

“It’s absolutely critical, especially for people wanting to in-vest,” said Burnett.

The role of StatsCan in providing information for small acreage crops was raised by analyst Michael Davey of FarmLink.

“As we evolve in this, we’ve got minor crops like lentils, and different types of lentils (presently being covered,)” said Davey.

“Are we at risk of losing the lentils-by-type (small acreage analysis presently provided?)”

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