Time to speak up for Statistics Canada

It’s time to stop taking Statistics Canada for granted and to show it a little love.

It’s also time to let your members of Parliament, your farm organization leaders and your fellow farmers know just how important the agency is for agriculture.

There’s a real risk that Statistics Canada will further reduce its crucial production of agricultural stats as different interests fight for favour within the federal government, as spending cuts become a government focus and as the dreamy possibilities of our digital age distract the agency from doing boring old surveys.

Unfortunately for us, those boring old surveys are probably the best base line data we get for assessing the state of farmers’ acreage and production.

However, they are expensive to conduct.

Statistics Canada is suggesting it wants to back away from its present reliance on surveys, but to me it sounds not like it is just hoping to add extra digital sources of data to the existing surveys but to also cut back on the surveys themselves.

Here’s what Statistics Canada’s chief statistician, Anil Arora, said at a recent ag stats session that the agency held in Winnipeg that I attended.

“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.”

How would you read that?

I asked Bruce Burnett, Glacier FarmMedia’s director of weather and markets information, what he thought about Statistics Canada surveys and agricultural data.

He was at the Statistics Canada event as part of a panel discussing the agency’s role, how it should evolve and what it needs to do better.

(You can hear Bruce and me discussing this on our free Between the Rows podcast in our Nov. 23 episode.)

Bruce had cautioned Statistics Canada against reducing its already sparse survey-based farm data, and he told me that farmers and the entire agriculture industry need good statistics for crop price discovery to be dependable.

American farmers and the U.S. industry get much more information about crops and exports from the United States Department of Agriculture.

Canada’s information deficit shouldn’t be allowed to grow.

Statistics Canada also needs to provide information on small acreage crops, and Burnett said there’s a risk the agency would be late covering new crops such as cannabis like it was with pulse crops in the 1980s.

Surveys can be annoying to answer, especially when farmers are busy with field work. Some farmers think they can manipulate the markets by understating their acres or yields. Others don’t bother to answer them.

However, if Statistics Canada receives poor information or provides less information about farmers, crops and agriculture, it will be farmers who suffer.

The big grain companies don’t really need Statistics Canada because they control so much of the western Canadian crop economy that they pretty much already know what farmers are doing out there.

It’s farmers and small agriculture companies that benefit the most from good, accurate, timely information in the marketplace, and it’s farmers who will lose if Statistics Canada weakens the information it provides.

So the next time Statistics Canada phones or emails, take it seriously. And tell the truth.

And get on the phone or attend an MP’s town hall or Christmas gathering and let him or her know just how important the agency is to you. If you won’t speak up for Statistics Canada, who will?

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