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What Is ARMS?

The annual Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) is USDA's primary source of information on the financial condition, production practices, and resource use of America's farm businesses and the economic well-being of America's farm households. ARMS data are essential to USDA, congressional, administration, and industry decision makers when weighing alternative policies and programs that touch the farm sector or affect farm families.

Sponsored jointly by ERS and the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), ARMS is the only national survey that provides observations of field-level farm practices, the economics of the farm businesses operating the field (or dairy herd, green house, nursery, poultry house, etc.), and the characteristics of farm operators and their households (age, education, occupation, farm and off-farm work, types of employment, family living expenses, etc.)--all collected in a representative sample. In short, ARMS is the mirror in which American farming views itself.

ARMS data underpin USDA's annual estimates of net farm income, subsequently provided to the Bureau of Economic Analysis for development of annual estimates of gross domestic product and personal income. The ARMS survey fulfills a congressional mandate that USDA provide annual cost-of-production estimates for commodities covered under farm-support legislation. ARMS also provides data regarding chemical use on field crops required under environmental and food safety legislation.

A flexible data collection tool with several phases, versions, and uses, ARMS is used to:

  • Gather information about the relationships among agricultural production, resources, and the environment
  • Determine the costs to produce various crop and livestock commodities, and the relative importance of various production expense items
  • Help determine farmers'/ranchers' net farm income and provide data on the financial situation of farm/ranch businesses, including debt levels
  • Help determine the characteristics and financial situations of farm/ranch operators and their households, including information on management strategies and off-farm income

Want More Details?

See ARMS Documentation for more about how the survey is conducted (survey design, process and procedures, including statistical methods for estimation), ARMS topics/research areas, and the survey instruments/questionnaires administered for each crop, year, phase, and version.

How ARMS Is Used

ARMS data are used in USDA and other government agencies in developing agricultural statistics.

Mandated Uses

ARMS data enable ERS to publish annual estimates of average income for U.S. farm operator households. Annual cost-of-production estimates for over 15 agricultural commodities are also produced from ARMS data and are used in analyzing farm commodity prices. In preparing the Annual Report on Family Farms, required by the Food and Agriculture Act of 1977, ERS draws on ARMS data for information on a host of relationships, including:

  • Farm participation in agricultural programs, and the distribution of farm program payments
  • Structure and organization of farms, including family and non-family ownership
  • Use of new production technologies and other management practices
  • Farm use of credit
  • Farmers' participation in off-farm employment
  • Identifying the characteristics of producers purchasing crop insurance

To meet the requirements of the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990 and the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996, NASS uses ARMS to collect data on field crop chemical use and publishes those data annually in its Agricultural Chemical Usage Field Crops Summary. ARMS data are also the source for NASS's Farm Production Expenditures, an annual summary of U.S. and regional farm production expenditures.

ARMS production input data provide annual weights for NASS's computation of the Prices Paid by Farmers Index, used to calculate parity prices required by the 1933 Agricultural Adjustment Act. Parity prices help regulate some 45 fruit, vegetable, and nut Federal marketing orders. The indices are also required by the 1978 Public Range Improvement Act to calculate annual Federal grazing fees on the Nation's western public lands by the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service. Milk marketing boards also depend on the price indices and expenditure data, which are also used in USDA's measures of farm productivity.

Research and Analysis

In addition to research that depends primarily on ARMS data, ARMS contributes to other research and analysis work because it provides the basic cost-of-production and supply response information on which other analyses depend.

The ARMS survey is the only source of national data to support research on farmers' decisions to adopt new technologies and to relate those decisions to the economic performance and structural attributes of farms and farm families. Technology adoption decisions being tracked in the ARMS survey include:

  • Choice of bio-engineered seed
  • Selection of waste management practices by livestock producers
  • Use of chemical and biological pest management alternatives
  • Use of information management technologies
  • Use of precision technologies in crop production

More Specific Questions about ARMS

  1. Can I get the survey questionnaires and manuals?
  2. What types of things can I accomplish with this application?
  3. What crops were surveyed when?
  4. How do you define family farms?
  5. How do you define farm typology?
  6. How do you define the regions?
  7. How do I obtain special tabulations of ARMS data?
  8. How can I get direct access to the raw ARMS data?

Q #1: Can I get the survey questionnaires and manuals?

A. Yes, you can download the survey questionnaires and manuals in Acrobat PDF format for all the surveys.

Q #2: What types of things can I accomplish with this application?

A. The database query tools provide custom delivery and analysis. The "Tailored Reports" option enables custom queries, where users can select among survey data sets to build custom reports, refine queries with specific samples/populations, group summary statistics for comparisons, and choose among output options for results (tables, charts, etc).

Q #3: What crops were surveyed when? I need to know how best to use the pick lists and get the data I need.

A. Not all surveys cover all crops; check the Documentation section for each major topic to review a survey's scope, coverage, and methodology.

Q #4: How do you define family farms?

A. Starting in 2005, "family farm" is defined as any farm where the majority of the business is owned by the operator and individuals related to the operator by blood, marriage, or adoption. Under the previous definition, family farms were farms organized as sole proprietorships, legal partnerships, or family corporations. The previous definition also excluded any business operated by a hired manager. The current definition recognizes that hired managers may have an ownership interest in the business. See a more detailed definition of family farms.

Q #5: How do you define farm typology?

A. ERS has developed a classification known as a farm typology, which categorizes U.S. farms into seven mutually exclusive and homogeneous groups within three broad categories, what we refer to as the collapsed farm typology (below). You'll note that the farm typology includes nonfamily farms, but focuses on family farms.

  • Small family farms (retirement, residential/lifestyle, farming occupation/low sales, and farming occupation/high sales farms)
  • Other family farms (large and very large family farms)
  • Nonfamily farms

This represents a change from previous releases as we no longer include "limited-resource farms" as a category. Limited resource farms can also be classified as either retirement, residential/lifestyle, or farming occupation/low sales farms, but the definition of limited-resource was the priority classification criterion. We continue to identify limited-resource farms in our data file to allow continued analysis of these farms. Get more details on the farm types.

Q #6: How do you define the regions?

To overcome some longstanding problems with the older USDA Farm Production Regions, ERS constructed a new set of regions, called Resource Regions (see map), depicting geographic specialization in the production of U.S. farm commodities and other characteristics. These are: Basin and Range, Eastern Uplands, Fruitful Rim, Heartland, Mississippi Portal, Northern Crescent, Northern Great Plains, Prairie Gateway, and Southern Seaboard.

Q #7: How do I obtain special tabulations of ARMS data?

A: Users of ERS data may need special tabulations of ARMS data to supplement or extend published tabulations and reports. Some may require the knowledge and expertise of agency staff in preparing these tabulations. Get the details...

Q #8: How can I get direct access to the raw ARMS data?

A: ARMS data can be made available to researchers and other government agencies who have collaborative projects with ERS or NASS that contribute to USDA's public sector. These projects must be formally administered through a cooperative research relationship with ERS and NASS. Get the details...

Last updated: Tuesday, November 27, 2012

For more information contact: Mitch Morehart

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