Providing Data and Expert Analyses to Support Evidence-Based Policymaking

Sound decisions rely on sound data and expert analyses. Policymakers use data and analysis to inform policy decisions and determine how to best allocate resources between competing priorities. Farmers and producers need data to decide what crops to plant and how to manage livestock . Consumers use data to decide where to buy food and what to purchase for their families. Rural communities rely upon data to make infrastructure investment decisions.

Every Economic Research Service (ERS) research finding begins with data and analysis. Without data, ERS would not be able to produce the research that society needs to make informed decisions.

Each year, ERS invests in many widely-used data products. For example, the Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS), conducted jointly with USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, underpins many ERS products, including the triannual ERS farm sector income forecast that provides critical information on historical and projected income, expenses, and Government payments. ERS also sponsors the Current Population Survey Food Security Supplement, which we use to produce the annual Household Food Security in the U.S. report. The supplement found a decline in 2021 in food insecurity among children compared to 2020.

ERS experts maintain more than 80 publicly available data products on the ERS website—ranging from those related to commodity outlook—such as Livestock and Meat Domestic Data or Meat Price Spreads, to the Food Dollar Series. ERS researchers continue to look for new ways to leverage data to inform decisions, as seen in its Poverty Area Measures, which launched in November 2022.

ERS not only produces data products but also ensures the data are accessible to the public—whether you are a student, researcher, policy maker, farmer, or business leader. In addition to being the foundation of ERS in-depth analyses, ERS data products often have visualizations or interactive tools that can provide further insights and explanations. In June 2022, ERS released the Meeting Honey Demand in the United States dashboard, which showed record high demand for honey in 2021 by visualizing data from the ERS Sugar and Sweeteners Yearbook tables. One of ERS’s most well-known interactive tools, the Food Access Research Atlas, provides a map users can explore to see areas with low income and low access to food stores. In June 2022, ERS published a related report, which updated estimates of low-income and low-foodstore-access census tracts.

Another way ERS makes its data products more accessible is by providing information on how to use the data. In fiscal year (FY) 2022, ERS launched a Data Training Webinar Series which contained six webinars focusing on a variety of ERS data products: the Agricultural Trade Multipliers, Agricultural Baseline Database, Food Access Research Atlas and Food Environment Atlas, Price Spreads From Farm to Consumer and Meat Price Spreads, U.S. and International Agricultural Productivity data sets, and Farm Income and Wealth Statistics and Agricultural Resource Management Survey Data Dissemination Tool. These webinars will continue in FY 2023.

ERS also works closely with other Federal statistical agencies to ensure data are accessible to the public.  In FY 2022, ERS worked with the Interagency Council on Statistical Policy to build a standard application process and portal for requesting use of restricted-access data. This portal will streamline requests across statistical agencies, while continuing to protect the security of the data, which will remain housed with the originating agencies.

ERS also partnered with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) to award grants to qualified research projects, using the ERS Consumer Food Data Systems. RWJF is providing $1.4 million in research for projects that look at improving equitable access to healthy food, using proprietary data from USDA and other statistical agencies. The project began in April 2022 with the call for proposals and the research will be completed by early 2025.

As ERS continues to produce research to illuminate policy challenges at the intersection of agriculture, food, the environment, and Rural America—strategic data investments will continue to provide the backbone not only of our research but also the agency’s overall agricultural economics research portfolio. The following sections highlight timely ERS research produced throughout FY 2022. None of this research would be possible without the data provided by consumers, producers, and organizations to inform decisions throughout our society.