That's from an interesting (yet worrying) article by the USDA chief economist Robert Johansson along with Anne Effland, and Keith Coble at farmdocdaily.
Why does this matter?
Responses to these surveys form the basis of what we think we know about, for example, how much farmland is in production, how much corn vs. soybeans is planted in a given year, the extent to which wheat yields are trending upward, and more. It's hard to understate how much of what we think we know about the state of U.S. agriculture stems from these surveys. For examples, I used these data in my article in the New York Times to describe the gains in farm productivity over time; economists use the data to try to predict the possible effects of climate change on crop yields and farm profitability; the data are used to try to figure out how farmer's planting decisions respond changes in crop prices (which provide estimates of the elasticity of supply, which feed into various models that inform policy makers), and much more.
The concern with falling response rates is that the farmers who respond may be different than the one's who don't in a way that biases our understanding of crop acreage and production. The authors write:
The authors go on to note that some farm program payments depend on county-level yield estimates (which the above note notes are now less reliable). As such, this isn't just some academic curiosity, but an issue that could literally affect millions of taxpayer dollars.
The problem of declining response rates isn't just with farmers. This paper, appropriately titled "Household Surveys in Crisis", points out it is an issue with other government surveys of households as well. These are the surveys that attempt to provide statistics on people's incomes, employment, and so forth.
The solutions to these problems are not obvious or easy. Here is the authors' take: