Fewer farmer surveys a key goal of StatsCan's AG-Zero project

Statistics Canada, it would appear, knows you don’t really want to talk to them. The government agency is sharing news of its AG-Zero project — an initiative that seeks to move phone and other surveys from first to somewhere else down the list of information gathering.

“We’re working to produce comprehensive, relevant, and integrated farm data – while minimizing the burden on farm operators,” says StatsCan ag diverion director Étienne Saint-Pierre. Farmers want timely, accurate and detailed data, the department says, while completing the least number of surveys.

Reducing the response burden is a key part of the agency’s modernization initiative — AG-Zero — which explores how alternative sources of information can complement surveys and improve the timeliness, quality, and accuracy of statistical information. In October 2018, the division reached out to farm organizations and key partners, during the National Consultation Week held by Statistics Canada.

The agency received positive feedback on the project, and plans to leverage the greater availability of alternative data sources, increasingly free access to high quality satellite imagery, and the advances in data processing techniques to reduce response burden and improve statistics.

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The idea is, that before turning to surveys, teams must consider whether the same data could be obtained from other organizations or existing sources, and extensive use of alternative data files will reduce or replace direct data collection from farmers, StatsCan says. Data modelling and advance data processing will also move the Agriculture Statistics Program closer to achieving AG-Zero. On an ongoing basis, survey questionnaires are being reduced in length through the use of alternative data sources. For example, a study is planned to determine how model-based estimates could ultimately replace the pig inventory questions on the Livestock Survey program.

It doesn’t mean surveys will never be used, as they are essential in many cases, the department says, and points to the success of the 2016 Census as an example. The response rate for the 2016 census long-form was the best in the agency’s history – which led to an “unprecedented wealth of statistical output.”

So while alternative sources of data will continue to be used, this would never be at the expense of providing Canadians with the statistical information they need about the economy and society.

Statistics Canada also recognizes that respondents’ goodwill is one of the agency’s “most valuable assets,” since it is the continued co-operation of Canadians that enables us to turn survey results into reliable information.

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