January 21, 2021
In recent years, the increasing interest in local and regional food systems has garnered consensus around the need for more robust economic data about the sector. The impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on farm and food systems in the U.S. have further underlined the need for better data. While many small to mid-sized farmers pivoted to direct-to-consumer (DTC) and community-supported agriculture (CSA) market channels to offset financial losses resulting from the economic disruption across the larger food economy and to support community members seeking food for themselves and their families, available data sources on the economic scope of these efforts remain limited.
Food system advocates have noted the lack of data on local and regional food sectors’ market prices and overall growth and the challenges it has posed for farmers and entrepreneurs seeking loan and credit approval for their businesses. Data collection is crucial now more than ever to strengthening local and regional markets and ensuring that accurate pricing information for organic and local goods are being captured so that farmers are paid a fair price and are better able to access federal food and emergency relief programs. To provide policymakers, researchers, and farmers with the data they need, the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) needs farmer input.
2020 Local Food Marketing Practices Survey
In 2015, NASS launched its first-ever Local Food Marketing Practices Survey to produce data on farmers’ local food marketing practices and fill in the data gaps on local and regional food economies. The 2015 survey analyzed producers’ consumer marketing practices across specific marketing channels among DTC retail, intermediaries, and institutions across local, regional, and national food systems. To learn more about the results of the 2015 survey visit our previous blog post discussing the results and its implications.
At the beginning of January 2021, NASS delivered the 2020 Local Food Marketing Practices Survey to 36,500 farmers nationwide to obtain new data on local and regional food production and marketing practices. Farmers received the survey in two ways: paper questionnaires and postcards containing a unique code to fill out the survey online. These producers will have the choice to either respond to the questionnaire by mail, telephone, or file electronically at www.agcounts.usda.gov.
The second round of the survey is currently underway through February 16, 2021.
NASS will not be adding additional farmers to the survey rollout. If there are farmers who did not receive one and are interested in doing so, they can register their farms online to be considered in future local food marketing practices surveys. Farmers who produce and sell $1,000 or more of agricultural products are considered eligible to participate. Producers will be asked questions on the value of food sales by specific marketing practices, such as farmers markets, CSAs, restaurants, institutions (schools, hospitals, etc.), food hubs, and more. Through producer input, the results obtained from this new round of data collection will serve as a benchmark for producers to successfully launch, grow, and maintain businesses across local and regional markets nationwide.
After February 16, NASS may follow up directly with survey recipients to ensure accurate data capturing. All responses to the survey will be kept confidential.
Results from the survey will be released in November 2021.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) strongly encourages sustainable food and farming organizations and their networks to get the word out about the survey. NSAC has long supported the creation and expansion of data collection tools as a means of providing much-needed economic data to organic and local farmers and producers. We know that data is best informed when it involves as many diverse farmer voices as possible.
The Local Food Marketing Practices Survey is critical in guiding the entire farmer population on current market trends across local and regional channels. Moreover, it will ensure that food system advocates and federal agencies can better identify the gaps and barriers that exist for underserved farmer populations that frequent these DTC practices, such as beginning, veteran, women, Black, Indigenous and farmers of color. It is important to understand how farmers utilize different marketing strategies not only because of the growing consumer demand within this sector but also due to the strong interest among federal policymakers supporting local food initiatives to obtain the necessary data to create and implement sound programs that help expand needed infrastructure, scale up innovations, and provide technical assistance for producers.
There are dozens of opportunities for the incoming Biden-Harris Administration to accelerate efforts to bolster regional food systems, promote food security, and support local and regional producers; see our priorities in our recent Biden-Harris Presidential Administration Transition Team recommendations.
We need your help to ensure that the new benchmark figures on the direct marketing strategies and sales across local and regional food economies are established nationwide. If you are a food and farming organization looking to spread the word about the 2020 Local Food Marketing Practices Survey, the materials for partner tools (i.e. banners, testimonials, flyers) can be found on the Census of Agriculture website. Every farmer’s voice counts, so be sure to complete your survey by February 16, 2021!