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More Than Counting Beans: Adapting USDA Data Collection Practices To Track Marketing Channel Diversification

by Alan R. Hunta* and Gary Mattesonb

http://dx.doi.org/10.5304/jafscd.2012.024.010, pp. 101–117

Published online 17 September 2012



In order to differentiate their products, agricultural producers are expanding and diversifying their use of marketing channels. Increasingly, these channels convey farm-level information to the final purchaser. However, the Census of Agriculture, the longest-running U.S. farm survey, tracks only three forms of market differentiation: direct-to-consumer sales, organic sales, and the number of community supported agriculture farms. Current Congressional proposals to increase data collection on market channel diversification rely on "follow-on" surveys and the Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Both of these surveys are more limited than the Census of Agriculture in observing farm-level trends; the follow-on survey is particularly limited in providing results that are comparable to all farms and even farms within the same sector. This paper will show that administrative reporting changes in the 2012 census and the introduction of new questions for the 2017 census can improve both farm-level and sector-level observations on marketing channel usage — with greater precision than tracking local and regional food systems. Such data is needed to assist policy-makers, technical assistance providers, and farm lenders in providing resources to the relatively high portion of young, beginning, and full-time producers involved in market channel differentiation.


Keywords: agricultural marketing, census, diversification, farm policy, local food systems, marketing channels, organic


a* Corresponding author: Alan R. Hunt, PhD Candidate, Centre for Rural Economy, Newcastle University; Newcastle upon Tyne, UK; This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

b Gary Matteson, Vice President, Young, Beginning, Small Farmer Programs and Outreach; Farm Credit Council; Washington, D.C. USA; This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Note: This research was supported by the Farm Credit Council, which represents federally chartered, private farm lending institutions. The content does not necessarily reflect the views or policy positions of the Farm Credit Council, the Farm Credit System, or any Farm Credit institutions. The views are solely those of the authors.


Banner photos include a Cape Cod cranberry bog; a cranberry “screen house” used to grade fresh cranberries; farmland near Lake Placid, NY, in the Adirondack Mountains; Montmorency cherry trees on the Mission Peninsula of northern Michigan; the historic Round Barn in the South Mountain Apple Belt of Adams County, Pennsylvania; the “Sea of Grapes” district of the Lake Erie Concord Grape Belt, near Erie, Penn; a field of cabbages near Shortsville, NY, home to one of the world’s largest sauerkraut factories. All photos copyright by Duncan Hilchey.


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