The five-year agriculture census in progress

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America’s farmers and ranchers are again being asked to take part in the 2012 Census of Agriculture. The census is conducted every five years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). The census is a complete count of all U.S. farms, ranches and those who operate them.

General sarcasm is expressed by farmers as every census roles around. Many farmers don’t think the census does much good for them because politicians aren’t known for basing decisions on facts, especially ones supplied by the farm minority of voters. But many in the ag industry point out that there is a definite need for farmers to provide accurate information. Federal law requires all agricultural producers to participate in the census and requires NASS to keep all individual information confidential.

“It is important that all growers, state farmers, women farmers and ranchers respond,” said Mike Duffy, Iowa State University Extension economist. “Census information is your voice and helps to shape the farm future as farmers. The Census of Agriculture is the only opportunity to know the state of U.S. agriculture. The census data can be used for research projects, general information on trends, basis for policy decisions and a host of other activities. Farmers benefit from completing the census as completely and accurately as possible because the information is used in a variety of ways that can affect them directly. Agriculture, especially production agriculture, is changing dramatically. Every five years, farmers are given the chance to be sure we understand and know what is happening in agriculture. If we don’t know the true situation in agriculture, we have to rely on anecdotal evidence.”

Renee Picanso, director of NASS’s Census and Survey Division, says the census data is vital. The census looks at land use and ownership, operator characteristics, production practices, income and expenditures and other topics. This information is used by all those who serve farmers and rural communities from federal, state and local governments to agribusinesses and trade associations. She contends that legislators do use the data when shaping farm policy, agribusinesses factor it into their planning efforts and rural service providers use it in planning community improvements.

The most up to date data being passed along by NASS is based on the 2007 census when 2 million farms existed that totaled 922 million acres. This was a 4 percent increase in the number of U.S. farms from the previous 2002 census, but the increase was basically hobby farmers or farmer market suppliers.

It will be interesting to see if this farmer market farming trend has continued with even more of these extremely small-scale operations that are classified as farms but have very little in common with the ever-increasing commodity crop farming operations. This will be the indication of what influence all the recent talk about growing local has had in the U.S.

NASS is to have all the census forms out by the end of December. Completed forms are due by Feb. 4, 2013. Producers can fill out the census online via a secure website,, or return their form by mail.

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