2012 Census of Agriculture coming soon

Dec 1, 2012

Prepare to stand up and be counted; the Census of Agriculture (census) is on the horizon.

The census, a survey of U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them, is conducted every five years and is coming up. The census is conducted by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) and paper forms will go out in the mail mid to late December. Participation in the census is required by law.

The census looks at land use and ownership, operator characteristics, production practices, income, expenditures and other topics relevant to agricultural communities and service providers.

All levels of government, from local to federal, use data from the census when shaping farm policy, and agricultural businesses rely on the information to better shape their services to their industry’s changing needs.

“The census remains the only source of uniform, comprehensive agricultural data for every county in the nation,” said Renee Picanso, director of the NASS Census and Survey Division. “It’s a critical tool that gives farmers a voice to influence decisions that will shape the future of their community, industry and operation.”

“The census is the leading source of facts about American agriculture,” continued Picanso. “The wealth of data available from the census includes statistics on small, family farms to large, corporate farms; information on young, beginning farmers to older, experienced farmers; and insight into traditional, rural farming versus trends in areas such as lifestyle and urban farming.”

Academics and industry promoters like the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association—not to mention media outlets such as WLJ—use census records to give the industry and the public alike a background from where U.S. agriculture has come. Those who “agvocate” to the public use details stemming from census data to strengthen their message to the increasingly distant, uninformed consumer public.

For example, as listed in a NASS census release, historic census data shows the number of farms in the U.S. peaked in 1935 at 6.81 million with an average farm size of 154.8 acres. By comparison, the most recent census, conducted in 2007, counted only 2.2 million farms with an average farm size of 418 acres. Of total farms in the U.S. at that time, 9 percent of farms account for 85 percent of total sales of agriculture production, speaking of the efficiency of today’s modern farms.

According to the census’ own page, “Through the census, producers can show the nation the value and importance of agriculture and they can help influence the decisions that will shape the future of American agriculture for years to come. By responding to the census, producers are helping themselves, their communities and all of U.S. agriculture.”

Census participation is required by federal law for farmer and rancher, regardless of the size or type of operation. For census purposes, a farm is any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the census year. Anyone who receives a census report form must respond even if they did not operate a farm or ranch in 2012.

Confidentiality is also required by law and data is treated strictly according to other portions of the U.S. Code. Identifying information tying data to individuals or specific farm locations is kept under guard and not included in public reports. Some data is kept for potential audit purposes, but these data items will be clearly marked Census forms are due back to NASS by Feb. 4, 2013. If you do not receive a paper census form in the mail, you can expect a call from a telephone census representative from NASS.

The census can be completed over the phone or online once the paper form has arrived by filling it out at AgCensus. usda.gov/index. More information can be found by calling 888/424-7828. — Kerry Halladay, WLJ Editor