NASS Survey Information

USDA HANDBOOK addresses Farmers as Uneducated


Points For Opposing Animal ID

Export Myths and Fairytales

NASS Survey Information

ARAPA Statement to the Senate Ag Committee

Codex Alimentarius


Sound Science Killing Us

What Can I Do?


What are the vets saying?


Congressmen Speak Out

International Entanglements

What is COOL?

Mad Cow Madness




Important Links


Photos From Conway Meeting



Corporate Hostile Takeover

What About The Amish?


How do Packers fit in?

The Real Reason for Animal ID


Endangered Property Rights

Organic & Grassfed Growers Also Affected

DATABASES - How Safe Are They?

Wake Up, Farmers!



Technology Behind NAIS


NIAA Conference Reports

Pushing Us Off Our Farms

Ag Lawyer Responds to the NAIS



Uncle Sam Wants YOUR Animals!



What is REAL ID?


Animal ID Problems in Other Countries

Farm Bureau Connection

NAIS Threatens Rare Breeds

RFID Tags - Good, Bad & Ugly


Retired Army Colonel Rebuts NAIS

Equine Species Working Group Contacts



SCRAPIE ID for Goats/Sheep & the NAIS

NAIS ID Terminology



The Plan is AGENDA 21

4-H, FFA Targeted at Fairs


Leon's Story - Chipped Dog Died From Cancer


Protection From Terrorist Livestock



TRUTH about Foot & Mouth Vaccines






Bird Flu Fowl Play




National Agricultural Statistics Service Sends out Surveys!

UPDATE SEPT. 15, 2007!

Ag Census Web Site Goes Live 

Information on the 2007 Census of Agriculture is now only one click away at The new Web site is a clearinghouse created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) to provide farmers, ranchers and the rest of the agricultural community with the latest news and information about the upcoming census. 

"The census site is part of our ongoing effort to accommodate the growing number of farmers and ranchers that are using the Internet," said NASS Administrator Ron Bosecker. "Taking that effort even further, this year will mark the first time that producers have the option of filling out their census forms online, saving both time and postage costs." 

NASS will mail out census forms on Dec. 28, 2007, to collect data for the 2007 calendar year. This mailing will include instructions on how to log in and respond to the census via a secure Web connection. Whether the choice is made to respond online or by mail, producers are asked to return their completed census forms by Feb. 4, 2008. 

Conducted every five years by USDA, the census is a complete count of the nation's farms and ranches and the people who operate them. The census looks at land use and ownership, operator characteristics, production practices, income and expenditures and other topics. It provides the only source of uniform, comprehensive agricultural data for every county in the nation. 

"Census Web site visitors can find answers to frequently asked questions about the census and can access data from previous counts, dating all the way back to 1840. In addition, those wanting to plan ahead can download a draft of the actual census form and begin pulling together the information they'll need to respond," said Bosecker.


The mission of the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) is to provide timely, accurate, and useful statistics in service to United States agriculture while protecting the identity of the individual respondent. Confidentiality of individual information is important to NASS both from a legal and a public relations perspective.  With the exception of the Census of Agriculture, almost all NASS surveys are conducted on a voluntary basis. In order to ensure continued cooperation from the respondent, a high standard of trust and confidentiality must be maintained. Without the cooperation of the respondent NASS could not fulfil its mission.

This paper provides an overview of the NASS policies, practices, and procedures that maintain the confidentiality of information on the Farm Register.


NASS stores important identification information on the Farm Register including names and addresses, phone numbers, social security numbers, employer identification numbers and other information used to identify or locate selected individuals for data collection on a survey or census.  Information on the Farm Register is for NASS Official Use only and is never provided to anyone outside of the agency, except for specific Official Use requirements.

Register data are never summarized for release.  Information maintained on the Farm Register is used primarily as a sampling frame where list samples are identified, maintained and extracted for survey or census purposes. Information on the register can be categorized into three types; 1) name, address and other identifier information; 2) control data which are indicators of the size and scope of the agriculture operation and; 3) sampling information.   No information on the Farm Register is available for publication. Census and survey response data are kept separate from the Farm Register.

After survey or census data collection, response data from questionnaires are entered into computer media.  Use of this information outside of NASS is restricted by law to summarized information where the aggregated data does not allow the identification of an individual who supplied the census or survey data.  Actual questionnaires are kept in a secured area and then destroyed after a period of time, usually a year.

NASS policy concerning the access to unpublished data applies to both the Farm Register and response level data. The primary focus of this paper is how the policy relates to the Farm Register but it is also important to have an overview of how NASS protects access to census and survey data.

Use of response level data by external data users is very restricted and occurs only in secured NASS Data Lab sites. Before data users can be considered for entrance into the Data Lab, NASS attempts to satisfy the specific data request through published reports or special tabulations. If special tabulations do not satisfy the request the data user can then submit a project proposal to the Associate Administrator.   Data users entering the Data Lab must be certified as a special sworn partner.  This means that there is a formal agreement approved by NASS, and the data user is aware that he/she is under the same confidentiality rules and regulations as NASS employees. Special sworn partners also must agree to the Data Lab rules, regulations and guidelines.  Only tabulated data that are reviewed for disclosure of individual data are ever released from a Data Lab facility. Any tabulated data released from the Data Lab are also released to the public. 

The next section covers the specifics of NASS confidentiality policy and how it is applied to both the Farm Register and the response level data. However, the focus for this paper is the Farm Register.

Confidentiality Law and Policy

Title 7, Section 2276 of the U.S. Code prohibits any NASS employee from revealing any individual information, including names and addresses, from a survey or census data file or from the Farm Register.  Title 7 strengthens the confidentiality of respondent information by setting forth penalties for the unauthorized or prohibited release of information.  Violators could be fined as much as $250,000 or imprisoned for not more than five years or both.   Almost all surveys depend on voluntary cooperation of the respondent.  This cooperation is secured by a statutory pledge that individual reports will be kept confidential and used only for statistical purposes.  This also serves as the basis for NASS policy concerning confidentiality and disclosure.

Confidentiality of personal information is very important in the United States. Even the perception with the public that the NASS confidentiality pledge has been breached would have disastrous results in obtaining the continued cooperation of the respondent.  A paper related to this topic titled APublic Attitudes toward Data Sharing by Federal Agencies@  by Singer, VanHoewyk and Presser [1] indicates that over two thirds of the public are in favor of data sharing between Federal Agencies for the purposes, in that case, of improving list coverage by providing a Social Security Number. However, opposition to this type of data sharing is strongly related to privacy concerns. The paper further implies that if privacy concerns increase it is possible that public support for data sharing would erode and that information about policy and law would not be enough. There must also be an element of trust. 

Policy for access to unpublished data through the NASS Data Lab

NASS policy for access to unpublished information is stated as follows:

“The periodic censuses of agriculture and NASS sample surveys are conducted under express confidentiality statues.  Survey and census data can be used for statistical purposes only.   NASS will uphold the confidentiality pledge while allowing permissible data access for the purposes designed to serve the general public and contribute significantly to the understanding of the agriculture sector.” [2]

There is a set of eleven data access principles followed by NASS related to this policy.  All of the principles deal with access to unpublished data from the census or surveys. They outline; 1) rules to ensure that sensitive data do not leave NASS facilities, 2) the requirements for authorized access as special sworn partner through the Data Lab, and 3) the disclosure requirements for the release of previously unpublished special tabulations. There is also an important principle that emphasizes confidentiality on the Farm Register separate from the response level census and survey data.  This important principle states “Names, addresses and other personal identifier information can never be shared and are not attached to data files.”   Application of the principle to the Data Lab requires that access to response level data be limited to only information that can be tabulated for publication or public release.

Policy for access to Farm Register Information

NASS access to Farm Register information is stated as follows:

“No information, including names and addresses from any frame or individual reports, will be made available if it is determined to be detrimental to NASS, the United States Department of Agriculture or farmers, ranches and agribusinesses from any NASS sampling frames. Such information can only be made available for approved statistical activities.  In all activities, the identity of respondents or data included in individual responses must not be made available to unauthorized persons.  All requests based on the Freedom of Information Act or other legal aspects must be referred to the Associate Administrator.” [3]

The Farm Register is for Official Use only and can only be made available for approved purposes.   The USDA Office of General Council and their interpretation of the laws and regulations pertaining to the disclosure of confidential NASS information determine Official Use. Essentially under existing statutes certain limited access is allowed as long as it enhances the USDA mission and is through a contract, cooperative agreement or memorandum of understanding.  Such individuals, groups or organizations receiving access are also bound by the same rules and regulations as NASS employees.

Approved Uses of the Farm Register by External Entities

The authorized use of the Farm Register can only be granted to individuals, groups and organizations in the following situations.

Cooperative and Sponsored Surveys

State Statistical Offices (SSO) frequently conduct surveys with local cooperators. State Statisticians can allow use of the Farm Register for this situation provided there is either a formal cooperative agreement or memorandum of understanding that exists with NASS.  Cooperative surveys are evaluated for the contribution to the total State/Federal statistics program and the impact on respondent burden. Surveys and the resulting micro level data must be protected in a manner comparable to NASS standards.  Only authorized sworn agents of NASS are allowed access to the micro level data and are fully subject to the various statutory confidentiality provisions and penalties for disclosure.

An example of a cooperative survey would be the Rural Sociology Survey conducted by the Iowa SSO through a cooperative agreement with Iowa State University.  This survey is conducted annually and measures characteristics of rural Iowa. The Iowa SSO creates the sample, questionnaires and conducts the mailings or any follow-up data collection, and enters the data into machine media.  The front of the questionnaire clearly explains to the respondent that the responses to the survey are for Iowa State University (ISU) and that the survey is being conducted through the Iowa SSO.  The respondent mails back survey questionnaires to the SSO for data entry.  ISU receives a dataset and photocopies of the respondent comments from the questionnaires.   Only a single masked numeric identifier is attached to the survey dataset.         

The Bureau of the Census

Farm Register names and addresses can be made available to the Bureau of Census (BOC) in their list building efforts.  Written approval of the Associate Administrator at NASS is required before any register information can be transmitted to the BOC.  Rules of the BOC under Title 13 of the United States Code provide confidentiality protection for any individual information beyond the NASS legislative protection.  

United States Postal Service Maintenance

The United States Postal Service provides two databases for address maintenance through licensed contractors.  The first database is the National Change of Address (NCOA) that provides new addresses with individuals or businesses that have moved. The other database is the Locatable Address Conversion System (LACS) that provides new rural addresses that have been converted to a GIS based address system to improve emergency response. NASS updates the Farm Register annually using NCOA/LACS information.

Farm Register names and addresses can be made available to the USPS licensed contractor for NCOA/LACS maintenance purposes only.  Written approval of the Associate Administrator at NASS is required before any register information can be transmitted.   USPS rules under the Privacy Act provide confidentiality protection for any individual beyond the NASS legislative protection.

List Updates

It is appropriate in the list building process to allow other governmental officials (i.e., Farm Services Agency, County Extension Service, County Assessor)  to review a listing of names and addresses only for the purpose of adding new names or deleting outdated names. Inclusion of any information other than names and addresses for these list updates is prohibited.  All communications with these government officials stress the confidential nature of the listing and the prohibition against other inappropriate uses.

Program Evaluation

Samples of names selected from the Farm Register by NASS staff may be provided to auditors from the General Accounting Office and/or Office of Inspector General for the purpose of program evaluation.  Individual reported data will not be released without the written approval of the individual. The requesting organization must provide NASS with sufficient information to 1) be assured that the review is of a statistical nature and 2) evaluate how the sample will be used.  Farm Register information cannot be used for individual punitive or enforcement.  Written approval of the Associate Administrator is required.  State Statisticians are notified when a program evaluation study involves their state and all auditors are confidentiality certified.  

Special usage

State Statisticians can make official mailings of unbiased informational items or referendum ballots for purposes that will provide a significant contribution to the agricultural sector to portions of the Farm Register for other State/Federal government agencies.  Under this situation mailings are conducted by NASS so information is not available to anyone outside nor can it be used for any subsequent purpose.  All NASS coding are removed from the mailing labels.  Special use mailings are documented and kept on file and must adequately describe the purpose, scope and procedures used.

Other Requests

Any other requests for access or use of the Farm Register must be made in writing to the Associate Administrator.  Requests must provide sufficient detail for thorough consideration.  This would include all requests based on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) or other legal aspect.  Almost all of these types of requests are satisfied with a special tabulation of response level data that then is released to the public.  Requests for Farm Register information are rare and generally denied.   One exception is when the respondent requests his/her own specific data. 


Accessibility to information on NASS Farm Register is restricted to internal Official Use only for the purpose of conducting surveys and the census of agriculture.  There are also a few AOfficial Use@ circumstances when it is either required by law or under a specific formally approved request that individual Farm Register information be used by external entities.  These special circumstances usually only require name and address information. Under every circumstance users are bound by the same rules and regulations as NASS employees.  Protecting the confidentiality of the individual is critical to the NASS mission and the contract with the respondent.

Reassuring the respondents that providing information to NASS on sample surveys or the Census of Agriculture is of the highest importance. They must trust that not only will their individual information will be held confidentially but also that the information will be used objectively and will be compiled with the highest integrity.  That is why confidentiality and disclosure policy must be maintained at a high standard.  One serious breach of confidentiality could reflect on the entire estimation program.  In order for NASS to consistently produce timely and accurate publications there must be good relations with the respondent.   Without the voluntary cooperation of the respondent the quality of published reports would suffer.


Office of Management and Budget, May 1994, Report on Statistical Disclosure Limitation Methodology, Statistical Policy Working Paper 22, Prepared by the Subcommittee on Disclosure Limitation Methodology; Federal Committee on Statistical Methodology, Washington, D.C.

Office of Management and Budget, March 1978, Standards for Statistical Surveys, Directive No. 1, Washington, D.C.

National Agricultural Statistics Service, July 2000, Handbook for Special Sworn Data Users of NASS’s Data Lab, Washington, D.C.

[1] Singer, Eleanor; VanHoewyk, John and Presser, Stanley, 1997, Public Attitudes toward Data Sharing by Federal Agencies, paper presented at the Annual Research Conference, Bureau of the Census.

[2] National Agricultural Statistics Service, Access to Unpublished Data, Policy and Standards Memorandum No. 7, Washington, D.C.

[3] National Agricultural Statistics Service, Access to Lists and Individual Reports, Policy and Standards Memorandum No. 6, Washington, D.C.

Copyright 2007 by Mary Zanoni.  The following article may be distributed solely for personal and non-commercial use without prior permission from the author.   Non-commercial distribution and posting to assist in disseminating information about NAIS is, in fact, encouraged, so long as proper credit is given and the article is reproduced without changes or deletions.  Any other distribution or republication requires the authors permission in writing and requests for such permission should be directed to the author at the address/phone/e-mail address below.

The 2006 Agricultural Identification Survey and the NASS/NAIS Identity


Mary Zanoni, Ph.D., J.D.

P.O. Box 501

Canton, NY  13617


January 11, 2007

Like many small-farm advocates, I have been fielding questions over the past few weeks about the above survey being sent out by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).  Many people ask if there is any relationship between the survey and the data being collected (often without the knowledge or consent of farmers) for the National Animal Identification System (NAIS).  As we shall see, although USDA personnel wont admit it, NASS data is the foundation of the USDA's aggressive pursuit of NAIS.      

            To my great surprise, in this morning's mail I myself received a 2006 Agricultural Identification Survey (2006 AIS).  I say "to my great surprise," because I am not and never have been engaged in any type of commercial agriculture whatsoever.  I have never before received any type of communication from NASS.

            The envelope states in very large letters, "YOUR RESPONSE IS REQUIRED BY LAW."  The envelope further states that the due date is January 29, 2007.  As explained below, it is clear that many people receiving this form are not in fact "REQUIRED BY LAW" to answer it.  Further, a recipient has only a couple of weeks between the receipt of the form and the purported deadline, and it would be impossible for the average non-lawyer to do enough research within that time to figure out whether he/she is or isn't actually required to respond.

            The form itself begins with several general questions, such as Do you own or rent any land?  Do you grow vegetables, hay or nursery stock?  Do you receive government payments?  The questions appear deliberately designed to imply that anyone who would answer yes is among those REQUIRED BY LAW to fill out this form.  The USDA is thus casting a very wide net in this particular intrusion into the lives of American citizens, because, frankly, just about everyone who is not homeless owns or rents real estate; some 75 million people in the United States grow vegetables; and some 60 million people receive government payments.  (See 2007 Statistical Abstract of the United States, Table 1226 (vegetable gardening); Table 528 (government transfer payments).)

            Now, perhaps it is possible that this wide net might not be as intrusive as it appears.  After all, maybe NASS has only sent this form to people reasonably assumed to be farmers.  But in fact it was distressingly easy to confirm that intrusiveness and deliberate over-inclusiveness are the hallmarks of the NASS approach.  This morning, I called the information number listed on the form and spoke to a woman at the USDA's Helena, Montana call center.  According to her, the call center is being swamped with calls from people who live in cities and have nothing to do with agriculture.  She stated that the call center employees really have no idea of why or how all these people have been sent the 2006 AIS.  When asked for some conjecture as to how so many unnecessary people could have been included in the mailings, the woman explained that, for example, anyone who had ever subscribed to a horse magazine might have been included in the database.

            Now, that raises interesting questions.  How is the USDA/NASS getting the subscription lists of horse magazines?  Why and how are horse magazines, or, for that matter, any rural-life publication, any breed association, feed store, or private or public livestock or horticultural enterprise whatsoever, giving their member/subscriber/customer lists to the government without telling their members, subscribers, or customers?

            Or, worse yet, how is the government accessing such lists or databases without the awareness of the businesses or organizations in question?  During times when the Executive Branch of the United States Government has secretly gathered the records of most people's incoming and outgoing phone calls, and the President asserts a right to open your mail and my mail without a warrant, this is not a trivial question.


            Returning to the first page of the form, we see the wide net growing ever wider.  The form states:  Many people who don't consider themselves farmers or ranchers actually meet the definition of a farm or ranch and are important to agriculture.  We need your completed form even though you may not be actively farming, ranching, or conducting any other type of agricultural activity.  Finally, the first page of the form reinforces the threat of the REQUIRED BY LAW language of the envelope: 

Response to this survey is legally required by Title 7, U.S. Code.   (Emphasis in original.)  (Note the single-double quotation marks the threat actually is in quotation marks, employing that common tenth-grade stylistic conceit of quoting something to make it appear extra-important.)  One senses evasions aplenty here -- the form has referred to the definition of a farm or ranch but nowhere tells us that definition.  It suggests that anyone receiving a form has a legal obligation to answer it, even though their enterprise may not meet the definition of a farm. 

            Given the foregoing ambiguities, I had further questions about the definition of a farm and the possible legal penalties for not responding to the 2006 AIS.  Specifically, I asked if my understanding of the definition of farm as an operation with at least $1000 in sales from agriculture was correct.  (See 2002 Census of Agriculture, FAQs,   Further, having found the penalty listed in 7 USC 2204g (d) (2), namely, that a person . . . who refuses or willfully neglects to answer a question . . . . shall be fined not more than $100, I noted that, insofar as the 2006 AIS actually contains 42 separate questions, it could be important to know whether there was a separate $100 fine for each unanswered question, or just a single $100 fine for not answering the entire 2006 AIS.  These questions were beyond the purview of the call-center woman, so she made a note of the questions, referred them to a member of the NASS professional staff, and promised that the NASS staff member would call me with the answers. 

            The next day, January 12, 2007, I received a call from Jody Sprague, a NASS statistician.  First we addressed the question of the farm definition.  Ms. Sprague conceded that someone whose property or operation did not meet the farm definition would have no obligation to answer the 2006 AIS.  She also conceded that the basic definition of a farm as an operation with at least $1000 in agricultural sales was correct, but explained that in addition to the gross sales figures, NASS also assigns certain point values for particular agricultural activities.  If the points add up to 1000, your operation would meet the definition of a farm.  When asked for an example of how the point values work, Ms. Sprague explained that 5 equines would equal a farm but 4 would not.  (Subsequently, she explained that each equine equals 200 points.)  When asked how many cattle equal a farm, Ms. Sprague said she did not know.  At one point Ms. Sprague said that NASS wanted, through the 2006 AIS, to determine if they could delete people who should not be on their mailing list.  But for the most part she contended the opposite, e.g., that she would advise anyone who had received the form to fill it out; and that even a person with one horse should complete the questionnaire, although she previously had conceded that someone with fewer than 5 horses would not meet the definition of a farm and therefore would not be required to fill out the survey.

            We next turned to the issue of how NASS may have compiled its mailing list for the 2006 AIS.  First Ms. Sprague maintained that the sources of the NASS mailing list are confidential.  I noted the call-center woman's reference to a subscription to a horse magazine as a source of names, and asked for some other possible sources.  Ms. Sprague said that grower's associations, such as the Wheat Growers Association and Barley Growers Association, were examples of sources.  I asked for more examples but she was reluctant to give any, claiming that some are confidential and some are not confidential.  She explained the overall process of list building thus:  as NASS comes across lists where there are possibilities of agricultural activity, NASS incorporates those names into its mailing list.

            We returned to the subject of point values for different livestock.  Explaining that many people were likely to have questions about this, I asked if Ms. Sprague could find out for me the point values of cattle or other non-equine livestock.  She put me on hold for a long while.  Subsequently, she gave me the following point values:  beef cattle, 310 points per head; dairy cattle, 2000 points per head; goats and sheep, 50 points per head.  (I wanted to ask about chickens, but I was getting the distinct sense that I might be pushing my luck.)

            Ms. Sprague stressed that she did not want people to be concentrating on the point values.  For example, she noted that people should not say they have 4 horses if they really have 5 horses, because it wouldn't be ethical.  (But apparently under the NASS moral code, rummaging through some of those Choicepoint-type consumer profiles to track your reading habits is perfectly ethical.  And, as we shall see, the NASS moral code also permits forking over your data to states that are in hot pursuit of the NAIS premises-registration quotas imposed as a condition for the states continued receipt of federal NAIS grant money.)

            We went on to the question of the $100 non-compliance fine.  Ms. Sprague assured me that a farmer's failure to answer any or all of the 42 total questions on the 2006 AIS would only result in a single $100 fine.  She also said that the fine is rarely enforced and that if any producer chooses not to report, no one from NASS would seek them out.

            Finally, I asked Ms. Sprague if there were any relationships between NASS and the APHIS NAIS program, and she said, Absolutely none.  I asked her if any other agency, state or federal, would ever be allowed to use NASS's database to solicit premises IDs for NAIS, and she said, Absolutely not.  And indeed, pursuant to 7 U.S.C. 2204g (f) (3), Information obtained [for NASS surveys] may not be used for any purpose other than the statistical purposes for which the information is supplied. 

            Several weeks ago, Missouri anti-NAIS activist Doreen Hannes sent a series of questions about Missouri's solicitation of NAIS premises IDs to Steve Goff, DVM, the Animal ID Administrator of the Missouri Department of Agriculture (MDA).  Dr. Goff provided written answers on December 20, 2006.  When asked where the MDA had obtained addresses for its solicitation of NAIS premises IDs, Dr. Goff stated:  the mailing was done through a contract with the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.

            I won't answer my 2006 Agricultural Information Survey.  Instead, I will send a copy of this article to my Congressman and my two United States Senators.  I will ask them to have the House and Senate Agriculture Committees investigate the rampant and shameful abuses of federal law and common morality inherent in NASS's compilation of its mailing lists and use of those lists to promote the APHIS National Animal Identification System.  Why will I do this?  Because I don't live by the USDA's false code of ethics; I answer to a higher authority.

January 10, 2007

USDA Surveys - Mandatory? 

I’ve been getting a lot of questions from people asking if they are required to respond to government surveys such as the “2006 Agricultural Identification Survey” that people have been getting in the mail.

I called the USDA to ask but was on hold for half of eternity and then a recording came on saying that they had just sent out the surveys and were experiencing a larger than usual call volume, please call back in a few days.

I’ve not gotten a copy myself so I can’t read it but several people have said that the questionnaire cited compliance requirements per “Title 7, US Code”. Looking through the USDA files on the web I found this for the past survey from 2002 in a USDA press release which states:

Responses to this survey and the 2002 Census of Agriculture are mandatory under Title 7, U. S. Code, which also assures the information provided is confidential and will not be provided to any individual or organization.
-USDA 2002 PR

So I dug around the legal code for the United States to see what that was all about. Title 7 refers to agriculture. Looking through it I found this:

TITLE 7 > CHAPTER 63 > § 3003
The Secretary shall provide, through the Economic Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture, or whatever agency or agencies the Secretary considers appropriate, an annual survey of existing methods of direct marketing from farmers to consumers in each State.
-Cornell Law

Now I’m not a lawyer but nowhere there do I see anything about required compliance by citizens. There is no use of the word mandatory as applied to you and I. It merely states that the Secretary shall do something. It doesn’t say that farmers or anyone else must comply. The government does like to come on hard and strong, making it sound like you must do something when it is not required so who knows if this is one of those cases or not. The fact that their recent documents don’t claim it is mandatory suggests to me it is not required.

I also found this interesting tidbit in their files:

Mandatory Reporting
Lee Schrader, Chair of the Mandatory Reporting Subcommittee, presented a brief Subcommittee report in which he stressed that NASS should have compelling reasons before considering mandatory reporting. An example of this would be the direct use of data for making policy. NASS should make every effort to improve data quality through methodology and data verification before seeking mandatory reporting authority.
The Committee recommends that compelling reasons must exist to justify the use of mandatory reporting on NASS business surveys. The issue needs to be considered on an individual survey basis when there are both NASS and industry concerns with specific reporting or data quality situations. Improving data collection methodology and communication with respondents should be the first approach to dealing with these concerns.

So apparently even people within the USDA don’t think it is a good idea to be flinging the term mandatory all over the place. I’m not a lawyer and I’m certainly not about to give out legal advice, free or otherwise. All I can tell you is what I see in print in Title 7 which they cited. That says nothing about it being mandatory. You make your choices from there.

I’ve written about this once before (check out: 2006 Agriculture ID Survey) and the people at the National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS) assured me when I called them that filling out the survey will not sign you up for NAIS and that they have nothing to do with NAIS. Frankly, the USDA could have picked a better acronym to not confuse NAIS with NASS.

Should you fill out the survey? Maybe. By giving them feedback you may be able to change the policies and the course of human history. Currently our government is by big business, for big business. If you keep quiet they’ll keep ignoring you. Over this past year a lot of small farmers and homesteaders did speak up about NAIS and the USDA did back down, at least on the face of it, to a large degree. You can make a difference. Let them know what you think on the 2006 Ag Survey and on the USDA’s NAIS Comments page. At the same time always be sure to write your representatives at both the state and federal levels as appropriate. See the Contacts section in the upper right column.

If you don’t speak up, they won’t hear you.

Update: Goatman found Title 7, Ch 55 § 2204g that says they can’t fine you more than $100 for refusing to answer questions.


  1. Once again, Walter saves the day!

    People on a horse-lovers group were posting that they had received the NASS survey and when I told them they didn’t have to respond to it they told me the envelope said “Your response is required by law” which of course freaked them out just like it would freak me out.

    I was just doing my regular morning check of Nonais and I saw your post, Walter. Thanks for your research. You are just awesome! And you saved me from having to do the research.

    I’ve pointed the people in the horse group here .

    Comment Henwhisperer — January 10, 2007 @ 8:18 am

  2. thank you walter. this is very interesting.

    Comment anna — January 10, 2007 @ 8:41 am

  3. As stated previously, we along with others in our area received this ag survey from USDA a few years ago. The same language was used in regard to ‘compliance’.

    We ignored the survey. We were sent another and told we could be fined $100. We figured it was worth $100 not to give up all the personal & private information the government thinks it has a right to have.

    We got a few nasty and demanding phone calls from the ‘toady’ land grant college about getting that census filled out and sent back. After my husband had a chat with the lady on the other end of the line informing her that we are NOT on any USDA programs and it NOT being the government’s business to demand compliance with their census taking we haven’t heard from them.

    Our nearest neighbors didn’t send theirs in either and they are on some USDA programs.

    It’s that voluntary/mandatory thing. Their testing us to see how much wool can be pulled over the farmer’s eyes.

    Comment donna — January 10, 2007 @ 9:35 am

  4. My husband is sending the survey with the following information provided:

    Being that I do not ask for accept any USDA subsidies, anything that I produce on my homestead does not enter the main marketstream. I fail to see how this information is applicable or relevant.

    Comment Susan Maricle — January 10, 2007 @ 11:54 am

  5. Actually if the form has a valid OMB number (which the USDA-NASS) has their are penalties for not filling it out. Google OMB enforcement. The survey says the information is confidential but the accompanying letter states the information will be on a website and published. If you do fill out the survey get a person to to personally sign their signature ensuring the information confidentiality. Also demand the law by which they are collecting this informatyion. And of course, who owns that information once it is collected.

    From the snowy trenches and on the road with good news soon :-)


    Comment Celeste — January 10, 2007 @ 12:20 pm

  6. Bravo! Sounds like the whole income tax thing all over again…

    Comment Sue Diederich — January 10, 2007 @ 1:16 pm

  7. link

    Here’s the link to the part of Title 7 that indicates what the penalties are for failing to answer or answering falsely.

    I agree. It’s worth $100 fine to not tell them anything! We got two copies of the survey in last night’s mail.

    Comment goatmom — January 10, 2007 @ 2:04 pm

  8. Thanks Walter and Celeste

    Comment LuAnn — January 10, 2007 @ 2:16 pm

  9. OT-WE THE PEOPLE of the State of Washington proudly announce:

    No NAIS legislation
    (HB available tomorrow but the bill is in play)

    Call your Reps and Senators and demand favorable support!

    From the trenches,

    [Excellent, Celeste! I have not read it carefully yet, just a first quickie. How do we go about introducing this in our state? What are the ins and outs? -WalterJ]

    Comment Celeste — January 10, 2007 @ 2:24 pm

  10. How does one get on the USDA’s mailing list to receive a survey in the first place? Seems to me they already have you in a system somewhere! I have not received one and I wouldn’t mind keeping it that way.

    Comment Melanie P — January 10, 2007 @ 2:27 pm

  11. We’ve been trained to blindly fill out forms from birth.
    As George Gordon says, don’t volunteer any information you wouldn’t give a Denny’s waitress.
    I agree with #6. There is case history for only giving the number of residents in a household for the general census.
    Be prepared to trade in your Federal Reserve notes for the Amero. USDA; Every move you make, every step you take, we’ll be watching you.

    Comment Dan Frantz — January 10, 2007 @ 4:04 pm

  12. In the State of MO they sent mass mailings of prem id ‘invitations’ out through a contract with the NASS. Since they do things just about the same everywhere, I assume that is the database accessed by every state doa. If you ever took money, participated in a program, answered a survey, filed taxes as a farm, you are in the databases being used to move forward with NAIS.

    Comment doreen — January 10, 2007 @ 4:21 pm

  13. I got one of these and called them and they answered immediately. While the first person didn’t have my answers, they had a supervisor call me back the next morning.

    This survey, while being part of Title 7, is required by OMB (Office of Management and Budget) for calculating state-by-state agricultural incomes so they can budget support accordingly. It does not apply to anyone who is not in the agriculture business. That is, if your have livestock for your own use and you do not sell the livestock or the products of the livestock (eggs, milk, meat) to other people, but have these animals for your own use only, and you do not receive benefits by being parts of a federal program (e.g., designated conservation area, etc.), then YOU ARE NOT REQUIRED to fill in this form. They told me to write “Residental Property - No Ag” on the form and send it back (it is postpaid, so no cost to me to mail it). Upon receipt, they will remove you from their database.

    Comment Rich Amber — January 10, 2007 @ 4:46 pm

  14. I have been receiving such surveys for several years now. My response has been to immediately place them in the recycling bin. Usually I get a series of telephone messages but I ignore those too and eventually the bureaucrats give up.

    Comment Ernie — January 10, 2007 @ 4:58 pm

  15. I was told by a couple of people I have been working with and trying to educate about the NAIS that they recieved around 8 mailings of these things,each was used to make the fire,followed by a late night phone call in the one case,and getting the fella out of bed,he upon finding out it was USDA told them to go to Hell and never to dare call him again,and since then (a month and a half)he has had no problems,he is one of those fairly quiet guys and he got hot,has been asking me questions about NAIS,thank you USDA!I have never dealt with USDA or such and have never received one,I do however burn the census every decade,except one year I wrote none of your business on it,never heard anything from them,and that is supposed to be a serious thing,I won’t tell you what I did with the draft reg. form when I got them way back when,and I never heard from them either,so I don’t know for sure what the risk is ,but as some have said it s only a hundred bucks to help a beauracrat bust a blood vein :)

    Comment LEE — January 10, 2007 @ 8:54 pm

  16. Thank you so much, Rich (of comment #13), for finding out this information and letting us know.

    And on a semi-related topic, why is the census considered a bad thing by some people? Is it just because it’s the government being nosey? Or is it something more than that? Call me naive and nerdy, but I think the demographic information it provides is quite interesting. I actually enjoyed filling out the form that came to our house back in 2000.

    Comment Rachael — January 10, 2007 @ 10:18 pm

  17. I also called yesterday to find out what the penalties were for non-compliance on the survey. I got a very tired-sounding lady who asked me to hold briefly and came back to say something to the effect that we just have to do it. She said she couldn’t find anything that told what the penalty was for not filling out the survey, but that we could just write on it that we object to it, and send it back. She did ask if I was a farmer, and I said yes. I got the impression that my call wasn’t the first of the day on this topic.
    (Dang, Walter,that’s a hard question.)

    Comment Cynthia — January 11, 2007 @ 6:35 am

  18. “And on a semi-related topic, why is the census considered a bad thing by some people? Is it just because it’s the government being nosey? Or is it something more than that?”

    The census is allowed by the Constitution only to ascertain how many people live in the area to assign the proper number of representattives. Anything beyond how many people and how many are of the age of majority is MISSION CREEP. Think of all the data that is being accumulated by surveys and census’ and all the bean counters employed by the Federal government to tally the data and come up with the questions, too. It’s a tremendous bureaucracy. The last census, I got the long form and it seemed like they were trying to case my house. Wanted to know what time I left for work, what kind of car I drove, when I returned and how far I drove to work. None of their business.

    Then there is the Biblical issue, wherein David counted his people and the Lord took serious issue with it. There’s a lot more there, but this isn’t the place to go into it.

    Comment doreen — January 11, 2007 @ 7:10 am

  19. The census bureau has put a similar threat on their new “American Community Survey,” or ACS. I fought them for months, because it is obtrusive and offensive. I was threatened by a census worker, and only “won” because I got the threat on tape and sent a copy to the Secretary of Commerce. I got profuse apologies and a promise that they’d never bother me again.

    (Everyone should be fighting ACS, by the way! Google it.)

    Point is that they cannot accept bad publicity. You must do your best to keep your cool, but don’t answer their ridiculous questions and keep fighting. Write congress, write newspapers, tell your friends…the government bureaucracy is out of control.

    Comment Bkeepr — January 11, 2007 @ 9:39 am

  20. Many people have contacted us about a recent survey from the USDA/ NASS. With NAIS being implemented, any request by the USDA for people’s information understandably causes concern! As explained below, the two are not supposed to be linked. This alert provides what we have determined about this survey, based on current information. This is not legal advice. It is provided for your information only, please consult an attorney in your state if you have any legal questions.

    Statute: The USDA is required by statute to conduct a census of agriculture every five years. It applies to anyone with a farm, defined as “any place that produced and sold, or normally would produce and sell, $1,000 or more of agricultural products during the census year.” (7 USC section 2204g and 71 Fed. Reg. 7004.)

    Penalties: There are limited penalties for not complying. A person who “refuses or willfully neglects to answer a question” faces fines of up to $100 A person “who willfully gives an answer that is false to a question” faces fines of up to $500 (7 USC section 2204g(d)).

    Use: The statute states that the information gathered “may not be used for any purpose other than the statistical purposes for which the information is supplied.” (7 USC Section 2204g(f)(3).) If the USDA complies with the statute, your information should not be placed into NAIS.

    More Information: The regulations governing the National Agricultural Statistics Service branch of
    the USDA can be found at link.

    Again, this is not legal advice. It is merely information about the statutory authority for the census.

    Comment Judith — January 11, 2007 @ 12:50 pm

  21. Once we start down the road of “believing” every thing that comes from the mouth of rulers, we are sunk.
    Once we start down the road “believing” that we must do what any agency of government tells us to do we are sunk.
    Once we start “believing” that the (de facto) laws they pass are “just” we are sunk.
    Once we start “believing” that we are free, we are sunk.
    ooops too late….

    Comment deb — January 11, 2007 @ 1:49 pm

  22. Re: #20 Judith you are wrong. It isn’t a census. It’s a pre-census, a survey to supposedly cull out the names that are no longer “farming” or in agriculture.

    I also found out that horse magazines sold (or is that soul’d?) their mail lists to NASS so people who wondered how they got your name, now you know. Who knows which other agriculture or livestock related magazines soul’d their lists to the USDA. I do believe that is illegal, but we can leave that for the lawyers among us to sort out.

    If you don’t sell more than $1,000 worth of products per year, you don’t have to fill it in.


    Comment Henwhisperer — January 11, 2007 @ 3:35 pm

  23. Ok… I had a question/comment…

    How many of you are in similar situations:

    I live on my families farm. I do not pay rent. My parents are “non-tenant landlords.” I manage the farm in return for rent.

    Now, we are not huge by any stretch — only 3 bovine and 12 equine (2 are my roommates). We don’t own or rent the property. The equine aren’t even registered in my name (registered to a farm account with our breed registry).

    Who is to do the NASS? My parents, the property owners? My roommate, the owner of two equine? Or me, the “farm manager?

    Maybe I’ll just call USDA. LOL! What a mess.

    Comment ellen — January 12, 2007 @ 7:47 am

  24. Interesting to note in regard to the Decennial Census:


    Just say NO to NAIS!
    Just say NO to the NASS 2007 Census of Agriculture!

    Comment RuralDreams — January 12, 2007 @ 11:11 am

  25. Oops! Something was missing from my last post. Let’s try that again–here is the missing quote:

    There are fines for non-response and for false response as well…failure to respond can result in a $100 fine; providing false answers is a more severe offense, and carries a $500 fine. Recent news reports, however, indicate that punishment for failure to respond is not usually enforced. The controlling section of the Code is 13 USC 221…Though there is a possible $100 fine for failing to file with the Census, the Bureau also notes that NO ONE HAS BEEN PENALIZED FOR FAILING TO FILE IN THE PAST. THE FINE IS MORE OF A PSYCHOLOGICAL REMINDER of the importance of the census than a source of income for the government.

    Just say NO to NAIS!
    Just say NO to the NASS 2007 Census of Agriculture!

    Comment RuralDreams — January 12, 2007 @ 11:17 am

  26. Thanks, Rural Dreams. It is my opinion that if the form is completed and returned OR the fine is paid, a person would be acknowledging that Big Government has the right/authority to impose compliance of a survey/census. During the last census, I never returned it, and when I was called by a local census worker, I told him that there were three people living at our house, and that the way I read the Constitution, that was all the info they were entitled to. He asked if he could come by and have me sign it, and I said “no”, if it needs signing, you can do it. The interesting thing is that we received two forms, one at the residential house we were living in at the time, and our land, where we were only coming 1-2 days a week. When I said I did not have confidence in the government to get the numbers correct, especially if I filled out the one left on the fencepost at our land, he said they would subtract the number of people I reported at our rural place, and not count that. That is so ridiculous to think that with over 250 million people, at that time, and a bumbling bureaucracy, they were going to carefully subtract every count where someone filled out two forms for their two properties. I never did anything about the form left on the fencepost, and never heard from them. By the way, we do not have two residences - it just took a while to sell our house in town.

    Comment Texas Goat Gal — January 12, 2007 @ 12:25 pm

  27. Hi Folks. This is my 2nd time trying to submit a comment. I’m not the most computer savvy person around.
    I just want to thank everyone who responded to this issue. I, too, had looked up Title 7 US Code and had crumbled under the threat of a $100 fine. I can’t afford a fine, but it seems you are saying it’s a ‘no worries’ on that score. So now I feel emboldened to either 1) send my survey to the circular file or 2) return it after writing in red marker ‘None of your d… business’ across the front.
    Does that make me ‘paper tiger?’ I don’t know, but I’ve written 3 stories for our local paper on NAIS and I bet I could still ask a dozen random folks on the street - or in the feed store! - what they think about NAIS and get at least 10 dumb looks. How do you get people to act around here (south central KY)?

    Comment Shirley Mayrand — January 13, 2007 @ 6:30 pm

  28. Shirley,

    Look to the right, on the sidebar, and click your way to Kentucky Against. Join it. There are people in that group that need you. Together a few people CAN move mountains. We’ve seen it. It happened here in Vermont. It is happening in other states - Virginia, Washington.

    Faith of a mustard seed can do mighty things.


    Comment Henwhisperer — January 13, 2007 @ 8:22 pm

  29. We received ours before Christmas and put it went right back into the mailbox with “return to sender” written on the outside.
    This farm will not communicate with the USDA or permit them on our ground without a search warrant. In the past they sent a lady out to do the survey because we wouldn’t return it. If she comes around this year, she is going to be told she is not welcomed here and be asked to get back in her car and not come back.

    Comment granny miller — January 13, 2007 @ 9:14 pm

  30. Interesting take by Henry Lamb.

    Comment walterj — January 14, 2007 @ 3:57 pm

  31. I like your “spirit” Granny Miller.Walter, the piece by Henry Lamb is a good one,it raises alot of points and puts this issue out there for folks to ponder,I have read several good articles by Henry and I think he is an allie.Its a good read folks.The govi/corp will use any method at its disposal to weasel this info into a federal data bank,thats the nature of a weasel,besides being bloodsucking,destructive vermin,yaaa,sounds like govt to me.Another point is that those members of National Institute for Animal Agriculture like Monsanto,ADM,Cargill and such are of course backing this to cash in on the captive market this creates and of course none of us want to “buy” their chips/tags or anything else. I would mention that many farm folks are inadvertantly supporting their own demise by dealing with some of these companies,usually without even realizing it,but every dollar they get is ammo to use against us,for example how many farmers use”Roundup”? its made by Monsanto,this is not to condemn anyone,its just an example,and anyone who pays attention knows Monsanto is not your “friend”(do a search on monsanto,you may be shocked,maybe not) I am saying this to call our attention to what we are buying and more so to “WHOM” we are buying it from,I know it is hard to keep track of all this stuff but I think we as farmers have got to stop and look at this issue,these people mean to kill us off the land,if we don’t stop them, so why would we want to give them a red cent? Seems to me if you know a monster plans to eat you for supper that you don’t open the door for him or help him buy his table setting or the pot he plans to cook you in.You try to starve him or weaken him before he gets strong enough to get into your house,I doubt that any one of us can effect this outcome by our lonesome,but as a group we can all take a look at what we are buying and who gets the economic boost from that purchase,try to not buy anything that feeds the industrial ag machine(food, tools,equiptment,ANYTHING,talk to the feed store if they sell something these people make and see if they will stop selling it,talk to other farmers,ask where your seed comes from and who makes that weed killer or fertilizer,this fight has been a process,a growing,an awareness of what we need to do,and how to do it,so we are learning as we go,but this seems to me to be one of many things we can all do to get their attention,after all its all about money and if they start losing some they may pay attention,its just my thought but I do not see where it is in our interest to use products or sevices that directly or indirectly hurt us,I think if the feed dealer is selling me out by not supporting me against the enemy then I do not need to support his business,same for the salebarn,or traveling seed or fertilizer salesman,if he or his company are unsupportive or uninterested in my liberty to farm and to live free for that matter, then I dont care how good a deal he offers me or how bad I may need his wares I will tell him to hit the road,if we start to spread the misery around a bit,we may be able to get some folks who are fence sitters to realize whats at stake and help us fight this thing,I practice this myself,and yes you may anger some folks and some may say you’re silly or hardnosed,or even threaten to not do business with you in the future,I say theres the door,hope it whacks you on the way out.Now I am certainly not advocating that we get ignorant about it,I am simply saying that we can add this to what we are doing already with other things till we reach critical mass and this this blows apart,I am sure many are already doing this,I would encourage others to consider it,it can help stall this mess,and every little bit of resistance put against the machine serves to slow it down and stall it.Thanks!

    Comment LEE — January 14, 2007 @ 6:28 pm


    We also have received a survey. Through research I discovered that it is NOT a census survey (this will occur in 2008), and under enforcement of the Authority of the Secretary of Agriculture to conduct a census of agriculture (Title 7>Chapter 55> section 2204g) it states that refusal to answer a question in a CENSUS survey, a person shall not be fined more than $100. THIS IS NOT A CENSUS SURVEY!!!! IT IS AN AGRICULTURAL IDENTIFICATION/STATISTICAL SURVEY BY THE NASS.

    Furthermore, in research into the NAIS website, under Premises Registration it states that previously the NAIS received it’s information on total number premises count from the NASS!


    Comment Mikela — January 15, 2007 @ 6:33 pm

Thanks, Walter, for your great Blog and website at!

Sunday, January 14, 2007 Today's Edition

USDA's snooping machine

Posted: January 13, 2007
1:00 a.m. Eastern

After several weeks' hiatus, Henry Lamb is back as a regular Saturday columnist.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is looking more and more like the Big Brother government that has infected Washington in recent years. The "2006 Agricultural Identification Survey," recently mailed to thousands of private landowners, is a good example.

The instructions for the questionnaire say "Response to this survey is legally required by Title 7, U.S. Code." Title 7 of the U.S. Code is an enormous document, containing 105 chapters, each of which is a lengthy book unto itself. To find the specific requirement, a person would have to read all the way to Chapter 55, Section 2204g, to
discover that a person who falsifies an answer to the questions asked may be fined $500; a person who fails or refuses to answer may be fined $100.

The questionnaire asks 22 multi-part questions. The USDA wants to know what is on the privately owned land, how it is used, if there are animals on the land, and the variety and quantity of each. The agency wants to know if the owner has any contracts that affect the land or produce revenue, and how much total revenue the land

Does the collection of this information – under penalty of law – by the U.S. government violate the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which clearly says, "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects ... shall not be violated ..." without a warrant? This USDA survey is an infringement
on the Fourth Amendment right of private landowners to be secure in their "persons, houses, papers and effects." Why does the government need this information?

Actually, this Agriculture Survey was authorized by a 1997 law that was enacted to relieve the U.S. Census Bureau from collecting farm data, which had been an expanding part of its mission for several years. The Census Bureau is authorized by the Constitution to simply count the citizens every 10 years in order to maintain balanced
congressional representation. Like all bureaucracies, however, mission-creep has transformed the Census Bureau into a national snooping machine.

According to the 1997 law, the Agriculture Survey was supposed to be taken in 1998 and every five years thereafter. If a survey was taken in 1998, or 2003, it certainly missed thousands of landowners who received this 2006 survey, which should not be taken until 2008.

It may be purely coincidental that the "Premises Registration" required by the National Animal Identification System, or NAIS, is precisely the same information that is solicited on the 2006 Agriculture Survey form. Until 2006, the NAIS was intended, and expected, to be mandatory, beginning with premises registration by 2007. Affected landowners and small farmers raised such a ruckus, that the USDA had to back down and promise that the NAIS would be voluntary.

Organizations such as the Liberty Ark Coalition,, and dozens of Internet groups have sprung up across the country in opposition the NAIS and to similar programs being developed at the state level using funds provided by the USDA.

The NAIS was developed by large meatpackers and technology manufacturers to enhance export markets. It was sold to the public as a public-safety program to track and trace-back the source of any animal sickness. The program fell apart when analyzed by the people who would be forced to comply with it, and the USDA has been forced to publicly abandon its plan to make the program mandatory.

Privately, however, the USDA is using all the tools it can muster to impose this animal identification program. The agency has provided funding to states that develop a mandatory program and has endorsed certain types of electronic technology – produced by the companies that helped develop the original program. Now, coincidentally, comes this 2006 Agriculture Survey, two years ahead of schedule, which requires – under penalty of law – the same information that the NAIS program cannot compel, since it is now voluntary, rather than mandatory.

Some landowners will simply ignore the questionnaire, pay the $100 fine and consider it to be an expense of keeping the government out of their business. Some folks may try to avoid the fine and maintain their Fourth Amendment rights by responding to each and every question with, "It's none of your damn business," and mailing the form to the USDA by the Jan. 29 deadline.

It is a sad state of affairs when Congress has so little concern for the U.S. Constitution that it allows this kind of abuse by federal agencies. This 2006 Agriculture Survey and the NAIS are but small examples of disrespect for the constitutional rights of all Americans. Congress will change its collective attitude, however, only when required to do so by the voters.