Completing the Census of Agriculture

I received my 2017 Census of Agriculture last week. It’s one of those every-five-year mailings that causes me to sigh heavily when I see it. And judging by the online comments from other farmers and ranchers, I’m not the only one who looks at this task with a bit of foreboding. Why does the government need this information? Why is the government intruding on my farm?

These are all good questions. Yet the simple answer is, there is much to be gained by completing the Census of Agriculture. For one, it is the only way to get a complete and accurate picture of American agriculture. And for an industry that has fewer and fewer representatives with each passing year, an accurate representation is absolutely essential.

For example, data is used by those who serve farmers and rural communities, including those in federal, state and local governments, agribusinesses and trade associations.

Information gathered from the census is used to target services to rural residents; lawmakers use census numbers to shape farm policies and programs. Plus, companies and cooperatives use the facts and figures to determine the locations of facilities that serve ag producers.

“The Census of Agriculture is USDA’s largest data collection endeavor, providing some of the most widely used statistics in the industry,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “Collected in service to American agriculture since 1840, the census gives every producer the opportunity to be represented so that informed decisions can support their efforts to provide the world with food, fuel, feed and fiber. Every response matters.”

Farm operations of all sizes, which produced and sold, or normally would have sold, $1,000 or more of agricultural product in 2017, are included in the census. The census is the only source of uniform, comprehensive, and impartial agriculture data for every state and county in the nation.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service revised the census forms in an attempt to document changes and emerging trends in the industry. Changes include a new question about military veteran status, expanded questions about food marketing practices, and questions about on-farm decision-making to help better capture the roles and contributions of beginning farmers, women farmers, and others involved in running a farm enterprise.

“Producers can respond to the census online or by mail. We highly recommend the updated online questionnaire. We heard what people wanted and we made responding to the census easier than ever,” said NASS Administrator Hubert Hamer. “The online questionnaire now has timesaving features, such as automatic calculations, and the convenience of being accessible on mobile and desktop devices.”

The census response deadline is Feb. 5, and is required by law. The same law requires NASS to keep all information confidential, to use the data only for statistical purposes, and only publish in aggregate form to prevent disclosing the identity of any individual producer or farm operation. NASS will release the results of the census in February 2019.

Bill Spiegel can be reached at 785-587-7796 or [email protected].