StatsCan's AgZero program looks to provide quality ag info, minus the surveys

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Statistics Canada is pivoting away from farmer-answered surveys and is utilizing various technologies to provide agriculture-related information about crops across Canada. The AgZero program uses alternative data sources including Earth observation data and satellite imagery to create reports regarding Canada’s agricultural production, reports that were usually compiled from data farmers provided.

Omar Youssouf, unit head with the agriculture division economic statistics field with Statistics Canada, says this initiative came into fruition after hearing from numerous farmers across the country on the frustration of answering surveys about their operation.

“So over the past several years, farmers have increasingly expressed their concerns surrounding response burden. But at the same time, data users and farmers as well want timely, accurate and detailed data, but while completing the least amount of surveys, so this was the challenge. And that’s kind of how AgZero came to birth and really started within the agriculture statistics program,” explains Youssouf.

Right now, StatsCan is evaluating which reports and statistics make sense to be included in the AgZero program. Youssouf shares that a team of analysts are taking a broad look at the surveys and the Census of Agriculture, that could be sections within the surveys and the Agricultural Census of Agriculture that could potentially be replaced using high quality information, administrative data sources and, and other alternative methods.

One report that has used the new methods employed by AgZero is the July field crop survey. Historically, this survey would include answers from upwards of 11,000 farmers, information that is now being collected through alternative methods including remote satellite information, Earth observation data, as well computer modelling.

When it comes to the reliability of the data from the alternate methods, Youssouf says there are teams within StatsCan tasked with verifying the data.

“We do things like comparing to other data sources and before actually releasing this information. What we do is we spend a lot of time validating and making sure that the results are comprehensive, are comparable. In some way, the concepts are very much the same as it used to be. We don’t want users to lose trust in the data that we are releasing,” says Youssouf.

The July field crop survey, which was released August 29, was just the start of the new methodology and Youssouf says their goal is set on the long-term effects of the reporting changes and are looking at it in a way of modernizing  the agriculture statistics program, stating the initiative is ongoing with no set timeframe.

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