Understanding Statistics

The Estimating Programs - County Estimates

All county estimates are the result of data collection programs through cooperative agreements. The success of these agreements is due in large part to the county estimates program: States are willing to cooperate with NASS in exchange for data that describe their agricultural economies at the county or district (multi-county) level. These can include crops particularly important to the State and local economies.

The many sectors that make up the agriculture industry depend on county estimates when pinpointing production shifts and concentrations, determining sales areas and markets, and locating new processing plants. The county estimates are much more current than those of the only other source of county data, the Census of Agriculture; this substantially increases their usefulness.

County crop estimates are relied on heavily by government agencies as well. The Federal Crop Insurance Corporation counts on them to calculate premiums and loss payments, and the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service relies on them as one of the factors in determining crop program payments. State governments use them to administer some of their programs, and to assess the relative importance of agriculture to the total cash receipts of their counties.

Through the field offices, individual states carry out their own livestock county estimating programs, generally focusing on sectors of the industry most commercially significant to the state -- beef or dairy cattle, hogs, broilers, catfish, and so forth. The type of information quantified at the county level also varies among states; one state may estimate milk production (including number of cows and production per cow), while another may estimate only the number of dairy cows.

Most county estimates are prepared from surveys mailed to a large sample. The samples for these surveys accomplish several important things. Many respondents are included in the sample from one year to the next, so that year-to-year changes can be measured. Farm operation changes detected in the county estimates program are used to update the list frame. Most operators in the sample have not been surveyed earlier in the year, so the individual operator's response burden is minimized.

The current system for county estimates merges the procedures and data with those of other surveys (cattle, sheep, and quarterly agricultural surveys, to name a few). This approach helps to distribute the larger operations within the county estimates, thereby strengthening their validity. The county estimates are also employed in weighting other NASS reports back to the districts to ensure that the reports from a particular district are accorded their proper weight, or significance; those districts with the highest acreage, for instance, receive the greatest weights.

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Last Modified: 05/04/2018