2016 Certified Organic Survey Frequently Asked Questions

The 2016 Certified Organic Survey was conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service’s (NASS) in conjunction with USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA). The 2016 Certified Organic Survey is a census of all known U.S. producers with certified organic production in 2016 and results contain data for acreage, production, and sales. Certified organic producers must meet the standards set out by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service’s (AMS) National Organic Program (NOP) and be certified compliant by an approved agent of NOP.


About the Survey
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    Under What Authority Can NASS Conduct the 2016 Certified Organic Survey?

    General authority for these data collection activities is granted under U.S. Code Title 7, Section 2204 which specifies that "The Secretary of Agriculture shall procure and preserve all information concerning agriculture ... and shall distribute them among agriculturists."

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    Who Uses the Data?

    The 2016 Certified Organic Survey data provide detailed, unbiased information for business planning and to assess the economic impact and the geographic distribution of organic farming. The data are used to guide industry planning and measure growth.

    The results are also used to help shape decisions on farm policy, funding allocations, availability of goods and services, community development, and other key issues. These data provide a basis for government programs and research funding. Some examples of how the information is used by USDA are:

    • Agricultural Marketing Service – to inform the development of policies and regulations for the National Organic Program.
    • Foreign Agricultural Service – to evaluate the potential expansion of the Market Access Program to allow for more exports of certified organic agricultural products.
    • Natural Resources Conservation Service – to enhance programs that help farmers with on-farm conservation activities like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
    • Risk Management Agency – to provide appropriate insurance coverages for certified organic crops through the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC).
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    Related Programs

    There have been four data collection efforts of U.S. organic producers and their production conducted by NASS:


Survey Results

Survey Methodology
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    What is methodology?

    In statistics, methodology is the processes by which surveyed data are collected, analyzed and summarized. Appendix A of the 2016 Certified Organic Survey publication will include a detailed list count of respondents and data collection, processing, and estimation procedures.

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    What methodology did you use to conduct the survey?

    Enhancements to the methodology are always made to improve the reliability of data and ensure we are providing the type of information data users need. Producers included in the 2016 Certified Organic Survey were identified through NASS’s List Frame. The List Frame includes producers from AMS’s Certified Organic List, as well as, lists supplied by statisticians in NASS’s Regional Field Offices. Record linkage was conducted to remove any possible duplication or out-of-scope businesses. Data were collected in a multi-mode effort in which producers could respond via mail, telephone, the internet, or in-person interviews. NASS reviewed reported data to determine the validity and representative quality of completed report forms and then summarized them to produce final estimates, taking into account non-response, misclassification, and coverage. The survey’s methodology is thoroughly documented in Appendix A of the 2016 Certified Organic Survey publication.

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    How was the data collected?

    NASS collected information directly from producers who participated voluntarily and on a confidential basis. NASS collected data by mail, telephone, the Internet, or in person. The first mailing went to all farms and ranches with an option to respond online. A second mailing went to farms and ranches that did not respond by the due date. A follow-up telephone call to producers who did not respond to the mailings was attempted to maximize response. In some cases, NASS representatives made personal visits.

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    I noticed there are differences between the 2015 certified organic data published by NASS and the 2015 certified organic data published by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) National Organic Program (NOP). Why?

      There are multiple survey and statistical methodology differences between the two surveys:

      • The 2016 Certified Organic Survey conducted by NASS is a complete census of all known certified organic producers in the United States. The data released from this survey are self-reported and includes only certified producers that had production in the 2016 calendar year.
      • The methodology for counting the same farm or ranch with multiple locations may be different between NASS and AMS. While these may be counted as separate entities by AMS, NASS may account for them as one single entity with separate locations.
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    Can I compare the 2016 Certified Organic Survey data with the previous NASS organic survey data (2015, 2014, 2011, and 2008)?

      The 2008 and 2014 organic surveys published all organic data (certified, exempt, and transitioning), whereas, the 2011, 2015, and 2016 Certified Organic Surveys published only certified organic data. Each survey’s results reflect the industry as of the time the mail list was created and for the given production year. Data users should allow for differences when comparing the data between the surveys including reference periods, organic definitions, and weighting methodologies.

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    What is coefficient of variation and what does it mean for this survey?

    Coefficient of variation (CV) provides a measure of uncertainty of an estimate. The lower the coefficient of variation, the higher the reliability of the estimate. For this survey, it means that those using the data can assess the comparable reliability of the estimates. By publishing the CV, NASS is increasing transparency and data usability.

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    Where can I find definitions of terms and phrases used in the publication?

    Appendix B of the 2016 Certified Organic Survey publication includes definitions of specific terms and phrases used in the publication, including items in the tables that carry the note “see text.” It also provides an example of the report form and instruction sheet used to collect data.

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    Are special tabulations available for data not published in the report?

    Special tabulations can be requested on the NASS website at https://www.nass.usda.gov/Data_and_Statistics/Special_Tabulations/Request_a_Tabulation/.

Last Modified: 05/04/2018