Agricultural census questionnaire to be reduced in size

The agricultural census – which takes place every 10 years across the EU – is set to issue to Irish farmers next month (September), with the questionnaires reduced in size due to the Covid-19 difficulties in finalising arrangements.

The Central Statistics Office (CSO), which oversees the census in Ireland, confirmed the development this morning, Friday, August 7.

The census was due to issue to farmers on June 1 last, but this was postponed due to the virus outbreak.

About 140,000 farms will receive the questionnaire by post in the first week of September, the CSO said. The four-page form will ask about the farm situation on September 1, with questions about land use, livestock and farm management.

“The Census of Agriculture is collected every 10 years, to provide benchmark statistics on the number of farms in Ireland and the structure in terms of farm enterprise. This is part of an EU-wide programme of farm censuses being conducted this year,” explained CSO statistician Cathal Doherty.

“During the Covid-19 lockdown, when we had to defer the census, we worked on simplifying the information we are requesting from farmers. The survey form has been reduced from eight to four pages. As well as a paper questionnaire, we will also be providing an online response option,” he added.

Due to the reduction in the amount of information requested in the census, the CSO is set to conduct a sample survey later in the year on farm labour, animal housing and manure management.

In April of this year, the CSO explained that the census could not take place as planned in June as “key tasks between now and then cannot be completed”.

The office was assessing alternative options for collecting the data, including a new timeline for rolling out the census.

The CSO has been in contact with Eurostat – the European Commission body responsible for statistical information – as well as “key users” of agricultural statistics about the “best way forward to compile the in-depth data on Irish agriculture which this 10-yearly census provides”.

The EU-wide census is aimed at collecting, processing and publishing data on farming in each EU member state. The census uses several methods, including (in normal years at least) interviews with farmers.

Before the Covid-19 outbreak, some 10.5 million farmers across the EU were expected to be involved in the process.

Generally, each of the member states is tasked with collecting set data for farmers, and farms above certain physical thresholds, in their country.

Normally, teams of supervisors and enumerators conduct the collection of data, overseen by a combination of civil servants.

These officials usually collect the data through farm registers, administrative sources and surveys, among other methods.