By TRAVIS HANDY
Every 10 years the American public answers a census, which plays a key role in many important political, economic and social decisions. This year a census will be conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) and county farmers and agriculture businesses will answer equally important questions that will influence policy and decision-making in the world of U.S. agriculture.
The Census of Agriculture is taken once every five years as a benchmark to measure trends over time. Many questions have changed, as new industry trends and requests from different sectors have influenced the data collected from all the farms and people who operate them in the U.S.
According to the USDA/NASS Census of Agriculture website, the census “will collect information concerning all areas of farming and ranching operations, including production expenses, market value of products, and operator characteristics.”
The data gained from the census may be used in many different ways. Local governments and agribusiness may use it for marketing purposes and to decide where to locate certain facilities or transportation. Local governments may also use the data to develop infrastructure and see where needs are for different industries.
The federal government may use the information to help farmers and farm programs, farm and crop insurance and other beneficial programs. Leadership in Washington may also use the data in the development of farm bills and other programs that benefit producers around the country.
“The impacts are broad and we hope that farmers will have a look at the data from 2007 and before and see how they can use it,” said NASS Public Affairs Section Head, Sue King. “I think many farmers don’t realize the value of the information and we want to make sure they do.”
Among the data collected will be baseline information on the number of acres and land in farming; it will collect demographics to look at the change in number of women farmers and different ethnic ownership of farms and deal with some emerging issues. This year, for the first time, the census will address retail sales and how farms are using direct marketing, biomass questions and new questions on equine.
“It’s an opportunity for farmers and agriculture in general to have their voices heard, to show how agriculture is changing, how impactful it is on the nation and really tell the story of agriculture,” said King.
She said it is important that respondents realize individual information is kept confidential and the census never releases any information that could identify an individual operation or identity. The results are released in aggregate.
King stressed the importance of every farmer’s participation in the census.
“This is once every five years that we try to account for all agriculture,” said King, adding that NASS does a lot of surveys in the interim. “But this really is one time when we collect really comprehensive data on a wide variety of subjects and we really appreciate all farmers participating.”
Mail out of the census forms will take place in stages, beginning on Dec. 14 in some regions and Dec. 18 in others, but all farmers should receive the forms through the mail by the beginning of January 2013. King said for this census forms will be mailed to over three million farmers nationwide.