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Understanding the Agriculture Census

Posted on Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 12:23 pm

By Stephanie Romelczyk
Virginia Cooperative Extension

Most everyone is familiar with the United States Census which all households receive every ten years. Did you know that there is also a Census of Agriculture which is sent to farmers and ranchers every five years?
This past year, 2012, was a Census year for agriculture. So, farmers in the area should be receiving their 2012 Census of Agriculture form in the mail very soon (if not already!).
The Census collects information such as the demographics of the farming population, as well as land use (crop, pasture, woodland), production practices, number of acres and quantity of each crop harvested, participation in federal programs, farm income and expenditures and much more!
Why is this information important? Information from the Census will be tabulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) over the next year and will be released in February 2014. This data will give a snapshot of the agricultural industry across the nation, as well as by state and county. The Census is the only comprehensive source of information showing the importance and value of agriculture – this information will be used to influence important policy decisions that will shape the future of the industry at county, state and national levels.
Although the Census is especially important for rural communities, national policies based on sound data effect all people. A strong rural America produces an abundant food supply which is critical for rural and urban residents.
All farmers who receive a Census report form must respond even if they did not farm in 2012. The Census of Agriculture is the responsibility of all farmers: part-time or full-time, big or small.
Once the data is tabulated, the USDA will release the information to the public at their website: www.agcensus.usda.gov. This information will be used by many – farmers and ranchers could use the data to make informed decisions about the future of their own operations, community planners could use the information to target services to rural residents, and legislators use the numbers to shape farm policies and programs.
One example: the last Census of Agriculture showed a 30 percent decrease in farmers under the age of 25 and an increase in the average age of farmers across the nation. This data proved to the USDA and other organizations the need for beginning and young farmer programs.
If you receive a 2012 Census of Agriculture, be sure your voice is heard.  You have until February 4, 2013 to return the form or you can fill out the form online at www.agcensus.usda.gov.  All information collected is kept strictly confidential.  If you have any questions regarding the forms, please contact the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) at 888-424-7828.

Stephanie Romelczyk is the Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent for Virginia Cooperative Extension in Westmoreland County.