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Published July 27, 2009, 12:00 AM

Q-and-A with Darin Jantzi of the National Agricultural Statistics Service

Darin Jantzi and his colleagues keep close tabs on farmers and the food they produce.

By: Jon Knutson, INFORUM

Darin Jantzi and his colleagues keep close tabs on farmers and the food they produce.

Jantzi is director of the Fargo-based North Dakota field office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service, or NASS.

NASS, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, conducts hundreds of surveys nationwide every year on everything from the prices paid and received by farmers to the demographics of producers.

The data collected is used by farmers, agricultural businesses and policymakers, among others, and frequently has a major effect on commodity prices.

Two examples from the mountain of NASS statistics:

  • Ninety-nine percent of Alabama’s peanut crop was in fair or good condition last week.
  • The average age of North Dakota farmers is 55.3 years.

NASS has 16 employees in its Fargo office.

Another 70 people, working under contract with the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, help NASS collect information in North Dakota.

Jantzi grew up on a Nebraska farm and remains a big fan of the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers football team. An 18-year veteran of NASS, Jantzi worked in several states before coming to North Dakota in April 2008.

Q: How about an overview of what your organization does?

A: We collect agricultural and farm statistical data from producers, whether it’s crop or livestock, and ag businesses as well, including grain elevators.

Then we put out statistical reports at both the state and national level that are used for various purposes, whether it’s research or marketing or a lot of different reasons.

We don’t share our data with anyone.

We’re nonpolitical.

Being unbiased is important, too.

North Dakota produces so many different crops. That must complicate what your office does … .

I believe it does.

Last year we led the nation in production of 14 crops and one livestock item, which was honey.

When people (in the Washington, D.C., office of NASS) are trying to test data, test recommendations, they will use us a guinea pig because we have so many different crops.

Are the surveys done by mail or the telephone or both?

Both. It depends on the survey.

NASS this year released the latest nationwide Census of Agriculture, which is conducted every five years. That was a pretty big deal for your organization, wasn’t it?

It’s a big task. It’s the biggest thing we do.

Nationwide, we send out 3 million questionnaires. In North Dakota, we sent out about 36,000 questionnaires.

There was a lot of new things we did this last time, (including) organic farming, wind energy.

Just a wealth of information for the data-user.

Who uses the information you collect?

We’d like to think that every sector related to agriculture uses it.

Are some farmers reluctant to provide information?

Absolutely. It’s a tough sell in some cases. It’s hard for them to see the value of it.

It seems that most of the people who work for NASS have a farm background … .

Yeah, and we would prefer it that way.

It’s good if you have the math and statistics background, but it also helps to have the ag background, too.

Not everybody does, but it’s preferable.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jonathan Knutson at (701) 241-5530