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Overview of the Census of Agriculture
Chapter 2 – The Census of Agriculture cycle


As previously stated, the censuses of agriculture and population are conducted at the same time every five years. However, once the data are collected, most processing activities are quite separate.

User consultation

Planning for the next census begins even before the current census cycle is finished. A series of workshops were held across Canada in 2007 with users and stakeholders such as federal departments and provincial ministries, agricultural associations, academics and agriculture service providers. Users subsequently submitted recommendations for the types of questions they would like to see on the 2011 Census of Agriculture questionnaire. The recommendations received through these submissions were used to develop the content and design of the census questionnaire.

Evaluating the suggestions

Before going any further, the submitted recommendations had to meet certain criteria before being judged suitable for inclusion in the Census of Agriculture:

  • Is this topic of national interest?
  • Are data worthwhile at more detailed geographic levels than provincial or national?
  • Will farmers easily understand the question?
  • Can the question be answered—that is, do the farm operators have the information to answer the question?
  • Will farm operators be willing to answer it?
  • Will there be a broad demand for the data generated by the question?
  • Can the question be answered by either 'Yes,' 'No,' or a quantitative response?

Questionnaire content and development

Although the questionnaire is updated every census to reflect users' changing requirements as identified through the submission process, certain questions appear on every census. These questions—such as those on farm operators, land area, livestock numbers and crop areas—are considered essential by Statistics Canada and other major users of Census of Agriculture data. Repeating basic questions allows the census to measure change over time, while adding new questions and dropping others allows data to be collected that reflect new technologies and structural changes in the agriculture industry. For example, the questions on manure management practices were tested and improved to reflect operators' use and understanding of farming terms and practices on operations today. Other sections also modified and refined were those on land use, hours of work on and off the farm, area for which crop residue was baled, poultry, wages and salaries, computer use and organic production.

New or changed questions were developed in head office in consultation with industry experts. They were tested a number of times with farm operators across Canada through one-on-one interviews on their farms and in focus groups. Farm operators selected for testing reflected regional diversity—in types of agriculture, production techniques, farm size, language and age. This testing proved that some questions would not perform well on the census, and that the wording of other questions would require fine-tuning. Respondent burden, content-testing results, user priorities and budgets were all taken into consideration in determining the final content of the 2011 Census of Agriculture questionnaire. It was approved by Cabinet in the spring of 2010.

New on the questionnaire

Many questions on the 2011 questionnaire were modified slightly from 2006. Some highlights are:

  • Business number: A question has been added to request the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) Business Number for the agricultural operation. In addition, a brief explanation of the intent of this question has been added to the back cover of the questionnaire. Using this data, a pilot project will evaluate the feasibility of replacing the financial information asked in Step 32 with CRA tax data, which could significantly reduce the response burden for farmers.

  • Paid work: The number of employees working full or part time has been added in order to provide a measure of the number of people working on farms. This will significantly add to the picture of agricultural labour when coupled with the established questions on the number of hours or weeks of paid work on farms.

  • Crop residue: A new step has been added to request the area from which crop residue was baled. This is an environmentally relevant question, as crop residue management affects erosion rates, contamination of surface and groundwater, greenhouse gas emissions, and carbon sequestration.

  • Practices and land features: Two new questions have been added to identify agricultural operations involved in 'in-field winter grazing or feeding' and 'nutrient management planning.' These questions will provide more comprehensive data on farmers' adoption of environmental management techniques.

  • Internet: A question on access to high-speed Internet has been added in order to evaluate the accessibility of respondents to services provided by Internet. This will assist agriculture service providers in the public and private sectors in planning service delivery to farmers.

  • Farm-related injuries: These questions were removed because better quality data are available from alternative sources.

  • Organic but not certified: This category was removed in order to reflect the new regulations on the use of the term 'organic.'

Getting and returning your questionnaire

In 2011, for the first time, all known farm operations received their questionnaires by mail through Canada Post rather than through a local enumerator. Farm operators either mailed back the form directly to Statistics Canada in the National Capital Region or completed and submitted an electronic form on the Internet.

Data collection begins in May

Conducting the Census of Agriculture jointly with the Census of Population in mid-May helps streamline collection procedures and saves millions of dollars. In 2011, most Census of Population forms and all Census of Agriculture forms were delivered to households and farm operations by Canada Post.

A question on the Census of Population questionnaire is used to identify farm operators who may have been missed. Census staff may have followed up with a phone call to help the operator fill out the questionnaire.

All Census of Agriculture respondents were asked to mail back their completed questionnaires in the pre-addressed, postage-paid envelopes provided.

Options for completing the Census of Agriculture

The questionnaires are either completed and submitted through the Internet or completed on paper and mailed back to Statistics Canada's Data Operations Centre for data capture. (For more information please see Data processing.) Farm operators could also complete the form on the phone by calling the toll-free Census Help Line.

The Census Help Line

The 2011 Census Help Line (1-877-777-2011) provided a toll-free telephone service that respondents could call during the collection period to obtain assistance in completing the questionnaire.

The Census of Agriculture and the Internet

In 2011, the option of completing the Census of Population or Census of Agriculture questionnaires over the Internet was offered once again. Both the agriculture and population questionnaires used a single portal, or entry point. Instructions for accessing the website address and the Internet forms were included on the paper questionnaires delivered to respondents, as was the unique secure access code that respondents could use to access the electronic questionnaire. This authenticated users and confirmed that a questionnaire has been received from that household. The Internet version also included navigational aids, drop-down menus, help pages and online edits.

Internet security—completing the questionnaire online

Statistics Canada always takes the protection of confidential information provided online very seriously. A secure login process and strong encryption are key elements in helping to prevent anyone from accessing or tampering with census information when the questionnaire is completed and transmitted by Internet.

Census follow-up

Once the data are collected and captured, Statistics Canada employees edit or check them for completeness. Any questionnaire with missing or incomplete data required followed up by telephone. Questionnaires not returned within a certain period of time, also required telephone follow-up.

Large farms

A special data collection process was developed to handle the increasingly complex structure of large integrated agricultural operations. Each operation's business structure was profiled to determine which of its components were to be enumerated and how many questionnaires needed to be completed. The required number of questionnaires was sent to a contact within the operation. Once completed, they were mailed back to head office, where they were edited before being incorporated into the regular census processing flow.

Census Communications Program

In the months leading up to the census, the Census Communications Program promoted both the Census of Agriculture and the Census of Population. The campaign informed respondents about Census Day, and reminded them of the importance of completing the questionnaire and returning it promptly. A variety of separate promotional materials were developed for the Census of Agriculture and distributed to various agricultural organizations, producer groups and the farm media. They were also distributed at a number of farm shows and agricultural conferences, and displayed by businesses in rural areas. The program also solicited third-party support from government and agricultural organizations and corporations. In addition, a series of advertisements ran in the major agricultural trade magazines and newspapers and were aired on farm radio stations during the few weeks leading up to May 10.

Since diseases can be accidentally introduced by a visitor to a farm, enumerators were asked to behave responsibly by showing sensitivity to the issues operators face, and by making sure their actions did not contribute to the risk of spreading infection.

If there was a biosecurity sign at the entrance or main gate ('Restricted access,' for example), the enumerator did not enter the property, and another method (such as a phone call) was used to ensure that the operator received the census questionnaires.

Head office processing

Data capture

The Census of Agriculture and Census of Population questionnaires go their separate ways once they arrive at the Data Operations Centre in the National Capital Region. There they are sorted, electronically scanned and the data automatically captured using Intelligent Character Recognition (ICR) software, a technology that reads data from images. Any responses not recognized by the ICR process are sent to a Statistics Canada employee who views the questionnaire image and enters the correct data into the system. Questionnaires completed and submitted on the Internet also go to the Data Operations Centre.

Edit, follow-up and imputation

Once the data have been captured, they are loaded to an automated processing system that takes them through detailed edit, follow-up and imputation processes. The data are first subjected to many rigorous quality control and processing edits to identify and resolve problems related to inaccurate, missing or inconsistent data. A Statistics Canada employee followed up with these problematic records that could not be resolved in editing to clarify the missing or incomplete data. Finally, those situations that cannot be resolved through either edit or follow-up are handled by an imputation procedure that replaces each missing or inconsistent response either with a value consistent with the other data on the questionnaire or with a response obtained from a similar agricultural operation.

Data validation

Data validation follows the edit, follow-up and imputation processes. At this stage, Statistics Canada analysts review the aggregate data at various geographic levels and examine the individual values, large and small, reported for each variable. The data are compared with previous census results, current agricultural surveys and administrative sources. Errors remaining due to coverage, misreporting, data capture or other reasons are identified and corrected. Where necessary, respondents are contacted to verify their responses. Near the end of the validation process, certification reports containing results of the analysis and recommendations for publication are prepared and presented to a review committee.

Data security

The security of personal information is of paramount importance to Statistics Canada. Census data are stored on Statistics Canada systems that are isolated from any other network. External devices, such as telephone dial-in services that connect to Statistics Canada's confidential data storage systems, are not permitted, making it impossible to break into Statistics Canada's databases.

In addition, Statistics Canada's premises have controlled access so that only persons with the appropriate security clearance who have taken the oath of secrecy can enter facilities housing confidential data. Anyone from outside Statistics Canada needing entrance to these premises is escorted by a Statistics Canada employee at all times. Only Statistics Canada employees who need to see Census of Agriculture questionnaires and data as part of their regular work duties are able to access personal information.

Data quality

Quality assurance procedures to ensure complete and accurate information from every agricultural operation in Canada are reviewed and improved for each census.

In 2011, Canada Post delivered a Census of Agriculture questionnaire to addresses where it was believed a farm operator lived. The addresses are determined from the previous census and other agriculture surveys. Census of Population questionnaires were delivered by Canada Post, or dropped off by an enumerator in list/leave areas, or completed by an enumerator in canvasser areas.

To ensure all farm operations were identified, the Census of Population questionnaire asked if there was a farm operator living in the household. This question triggered a follow-up from head office to help ensure that new farms were identified and enumerated for the Census of Agriculture.

Respondents will be able to complete their questionnaires on paper, by telephone or via the Internet. Telephone follow-up will be conducted with those respondents who received questionnaires but did not return them.

In addition, the data processing sequence includes several safeguards that can find 'missing' farms that were counted in 2006 but did not return a questionnaire in 2011 or, conversely, farms that did not exist in 2006 but have been identified on subsequent agriculture surveys since then.

Finally, the Coverage Evaluation Survey gave an estimated undercoverage rate for the 2006 Census of Agriculture of 3.4%.

Data dissemination

Once data are collected, processed, verified and certified, they are ready for public use. Census of Agriculture data are available at low levels of geography and are presented in various standard formats and through custom data tabulations. All published data are subjected to confidentiality restrictions to ensure that no respondent can be identified.

The section 'Census of Agriculture products and services' lists all products and services available from the 2011 Census of Agriculture.

Census of Agriculture marketing

This is the last stage in the census cycle. Once all the data have been collected, processed and produced, users and respondents must be made aware of what products and services are available. The Census of Agriculture staff at head office and Advisory Services staff in the regional reference centres complete most of the promotion. A variety of activities—including mail-outs, media releases, feature articles, client visits and displays—make both the public and private sectors aware of 2011 Census of Agriculture products and services. The marketing, dissemination and communications divisions of Statistics Canada provide technical support.

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