Farmers and ranchers will soon have the opportunity to make a positive impact on their communities by taking part in the 2012 Census of Agriculture. 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.
It is important that all commodity growers and ranchers respond. Census information is our voice and helps us to shape our farm future.
"The Census remains the only source of uniform, comprehensive agricultural data for every county in the nation," said Renee Picanso, director of NASS's Census and Survey Division. "It's a critical tool that gives farmers a voice to influence decisions that will shape the future oftheir community, industry and operation."
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 andtrade associations. Legislators use the data when shaping farm policy and agribusinesses factor it into their planning efforts.
In 2007, U.S. farmers reported over two million farms, spanning across more than 922 million acres. This showed nearly a 4 percent increase in the number of U.S. farms from the previous Census in 2002. These new farms tended to have more diversified production, feweracres, lower sales and younger operators who also worked off-farm.
To the general public, the Census can provide a snapshot of how much farming has changed over the years.
For example, according to Census data, the number of farms in the United States peaked in 1935 at 6,812,350, with an average farm size of 154.8 acres. By comparison, the 2007 Census of Agriculture counted 2,204,792 farms with an average farm size of 418 acres. And while 91 percent of farms in the United States are small, with income of less than $250,000, the remaining 9 percent of farms account for 85 percent of total sales of agriculture production. Therefore, it's vital for every producer -- regardless of size of operation to respond to the Census.
"Your answers to the Census impact farm programs and rural services that support yourcommunity," Picanso said. "So do your part and be counted when you receive your form, because there's strength in numbers that only the Census can reveal."
NASS will mail out Census forms in mid-December, to collect data for the 2012 calendar year. Completed forms are due by Feb. 4, 2013. Producers can fill out the Census online via asecure website,www.agcensus.usda.gov, or return their form by mail. Federal law requires allagricultural producers to participate in the Census and requires NASS to keep all individualinformation confidential.
For more information,visit www.agcensus.usda.gov. The Census of Agriculture is your voice, your future, your responsibility.
Editor's Note: Delta George is a K-State Research and Extension agriculture and 4-H extension agent assigned to Bourbon County. She may be reached at (620) 223-3720.