Wednesday, December 16, 2015

House Republicans call USDA mandatory farmer surveys 'invasive' and 'irrelevant'

House Republicans say the U.S. Department of Agriculture's annual mandatory surveys to farmers are too long and the questions are intrusive, reports Agri-Pulse. The survey, mailed to 2.1 landowners last year, was 24 pages and 326 questions for operator landlords—who farm the land they own—and 12 pages for non-operator landlords. Members of the House biotechnology, horticulture and research subcommittee, led by Chairman Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) called the survey “invasive” and “irrelevant.”

The 2014 survey "was administered by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) and used to generate data on farmland owners and the economic health of the farm sector,” reports Agri-Pulse. “Questions for operator landlords dealt with farm-related income and expenses, investments and insurance policies. But there were also questions that some committee members considered unusual—dealing with healthcare expenses and household entertainment expenditures, along with vacations and charitable donations.”

Davis said "questions about donations were inappropriate for a mandatory agricultural survey, and other Republicans on the panel agreed,” reports Agri-Pulse. Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) "called the survey questions ‘offensive.’" Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) "told the hearing’s sole witness, NASS Administrator Joseph Reilly, ‘it’s none of your business how much money (landowners) are giving to charity.’” Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) expressed concern that the length of the survey would cause some farmers to refuse to answer.

Reilly said the survey’s "list of questions helped NASS 'gather a full economic profile' for American family farms," reports Agri-Pulse. "He also said the agency does 'everything possible to secure the information' gleaned via surveys from being made public." Producers who refused to complete the survey, or ignored it, could face a $100 penalty. Agri-Pulse is subscription-only but offers a four-week free trial.

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