This past year has been an interesting time for several reasons at the Farm Service Agency. We had our second very dry/very hot summer in a row which fortunately doesn't happen too often, but makes it tough on farmers and ranchers when it does occur. In addition, our office staff has been anticipating a new farm bill due for passage in 2012 as this would give birth to most of the programs we will work on over the next few years. But, no farm bill yet -- not until next year sometime it appears.
However, we saw an amazing revitalization of grass, plants, and crops when some rains came in September. This did not produce a bumper crop by any means, and the corn crop was already lost, but the grass grew unexpectedly producing grazing for a good number of additional weeks and many of the soybeans responded by adding five or 10 or 15 bushels to their ultimate yield -- an amazing boost over mid-summer expectations, especially with today's strong prices.
And it seems that our agency and USDA will continue to function even with only an expectation of the next farm bill. Budgets are peeled thin, of course, but total collapse has not resulted. In fact, we are hustling to get caught up before another farm bill does pass.
My conclusion reinforces a fact of life that I have known for a long time, but sometimes get too caught up in the moment to recall: neither mankind nor his institutions are ultimately in control of the world or the universe. There is a creator who planned the universe down to the most minute detail. We can trust He will remain in ultimate control of that universe no matter what we do. So as we look forward to 2013, it doesn't mean there won't be some challenges, of course, but it does mean we can expect an interesting and stimulating year ahead.
One of those potentially interesting things in the year ahead is completion of the 2012 Census of Agriculture that USDA is distributing this winter. When received, those who have responded in the past may notice expanded sections on equine, forestry and regional ag production.
"Once we get input from different groups on things they would like to see on the questionnaire, we design a questionnaire, we run out and content test it with farmers and ranchers to see how the questions play out, then we get the questionnaire finalized," said Renee Picanso of the National Agricultural Statistics Service in a USDA interview.
The NASS official says preparation begins for each census just as soon as the results of the previous census are released. Results from the last census in 2007 were released in 2009.
Some producers should already be seeing the newly expanded census of ag in their mailboxes. "We start early on publicity and then we are also working on our systems for the census like the edits, the summary," Picanso said.
She added that data collection will be a little different this year as well. The NASS has been preparing to use the Internet and iPads to collect information. Picanso says the process of preparing the mail list starts about two years ahead of the actual mailing.
"The number of farmers and ranchers is changing and people come in and out of business so we spend a lot of time getting the mail list," Picanso says.
The mailings, Picanso says, will be going out in a phased approach, scheduled for delivery to farmers' and ranchers' mailboxes in mid-December. Once the surveys are in-hand, collection will be completed by May, though deadline to complete the form is Feb. 4, 2013.
"Once we get all the data collected of course then we start editing, summarizing, preparing the publication, finally release the data in early February of 2014," Picanso adds.
The data that is cited most often includes number of farms, the land in farms, acreages of crops, and livestock production practices and demographic data. Picanso says this information is critical because it shows the value and importance of U.S. agriculture.
"A lot of funding is distributed based on this data," Picanso says, "so it's important to individuals as well as to local communities to have the most accurate and up to date information available on agriculture."
The agriculture census specifically counts U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them. For census purposes, a farm is defined as "any place that produced and sold, or normally would have sold, $1,000 or more of agricultural products during the census year." The next census will be taken in 2017. For more information, visit www.agcensus.usda.gov.