Do you tell StatsCan the truth?

“Hello, I’m calling on behalf of Statistics Canada. Would you have time…”

It’s a familiar phone call for most Canadian farmers when StatsCan conducts its surveys for estimating crop and livestock production statistics across the country.

The inconvenience of having to spend the time on the phone, combined with not wanting to share information about what’s happening inside a private business with the government or other market players often leads to reluctant participation, at best.

“I seeded 100 percent of my acres to flax (or pick another smaller acre crop)” is a common line from farmers joking about what they tell StatsCan, not wanting the market to know what to expect for supplies of the crops they are growing.

(The head of StatsCan’s field crop explained to us earlier this week how that 100 percent flax response would probably get flagged and thrown out, but there are many less obvious examples that StatsCan has no way of determining to be false.)

So while this definitely happens, an economic case can still be made for why farmers should provide the agency with accurate responses.

Grain companies certainly won’t complain if the rest of the market is in the dark on supply. They have a good idea of what’s being grown. The term “information asymmetry” refers to one or more parties in a market having better information — and therefore more market power — than others. Since farmers are the small players in the grain market, better public data helps level the information playing field. It’s farmers that benefit from market transparency, and in many cases, StatsCan provides the only publicly-available, unbiased numbers.

Last week’s StatsCan seeding intentions report contained plenty of unexpected results. Canola acreage in Western Canada and soybean area in Ontario were seen as too small, while wheat and pulse acres were too high, resulting in major skepticism, and the usual comments about StatsCan numbers not being worth much, based on the quality of info provided by farmers.

So we’re curious, and figured we’d run our own survey (it’s voluntary, and no, we can’t track who says yes or no, or if you’re telling the truth…):


(If you’re on your phone, you might have to click here to see the poll.)

Feel free to explain your rationale in the comments below or shoot me an email at [email protected].

StatsCan response rates

  • StatsCan’s caller will usually note that participation is mandatory (under the Statistics Act), but a significant number of people simply refuse or make it impossible for StatsCan to reach them within the survey time period, which StatsCan refers to as a “non-response.”
  • The agency says its response rate for the field crops survey, which takes place five times a year, is approximately 75 percent. (They’re also not supposed to contact the same farm more than twice a year.) The biannual livestock survey has a higher response rate of around 88 percent.

Online convenience

  • As of the March field crop survey, StatsCan has started to offer the option of filling out its survey online rather than by phone. Participants were sent an email two weeks before the phone survey period began. StatsCan then followed up by phone if the survey hadn’t been completed online.

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Kelvin Heppner

Kelvin Heppner is a field editor and radio host for RealAgriculture and RealAg Radio. He's been reporting on agriculture on the prairies and across Canada since 2008(ish). He farms with his family near Altona, Manitoba, and is on Twitter at @realag_kelvin. @realag_kelvin

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