By mid-January, the 2012 Census of Agriculture has found its way into the mailboxes of most farm and ranch folks in this area. At the FSA office, we have fielded a number of questions concerning this new census document. It is several pages long (24 if you are counting) with a considerable number of questions included about every possible farm business enterprise.
The most common question we hear is, "Do I have to fill this thing out?" My answer to that is "yes," that is what the law instructs.
"But has anyone been put in jail or fined for not complying?" Not that I know of.
However, the information provided through the census is used for many things that benefit rural residents. Names are detached upon receipt, so the data is not used to "check up" on anyone. This is not a tax document, so your best estimates are acceptable on many of the questions that ask for amounts, acres, dollars, etc.
So what might be some of those possible benefits?
When a Pennsylvania dairy farmer heard that his local county officials were considering a significant reduction in rural snowplow services in his community, he became concerned. While the cuts were caused by local government budget constraints, this dairy farmer knew he had to do something -- he turned to the Census of Agriculture administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service.
Using Census data, he was able to illustrate the need for rural snowplow service to, "show our county officials the value of all the milk produced" in the community and the need for truck access to dairy farms during inclement weather. The farmer said the officials, "had no idea of the size of the dairy industry in our county and reconsidered their plan for the snow removal budget with dairy farmers in mind." Because of his efforts and using data from the Census of Agriculture, one farmer had the opportunity to make a significant impact and benefit his community.
While stories such as the Pennsylvania farmer's make it evident that the census protects U.S. agriculture now, it may also be surprising to know it also protects the future of agriculture in America. Data gathered from the 2007 Census of Agriculture showed the average farmer is approaching 60 years of age and the number of farmers under the age of 25 has decreased by almost 30 percent since 2002. Findings such as these have helped the USDA see the need to create beginning farmer programs to protect the future of agriculture.
Officials from NASS say stories like the one from the dairy farmer in Pennsylvania should be more common -- and they encourage more farmers and ranchers to take advantage of the data and the benefits it provides. The first step is to complete the Census of Agriculture to ensure an accurate and complete count and to help grow your future, boost rural services, and shape farm programs.
Most farmers have already received the document, so now have the opportunity to complete the 2012 Census of Agriculture. NASS has mailed the Census forms -- responses are due by Feb. 4. By responding, farmers and ranchers can have a voice in shaping their future. After all, the Census is your voice, your future and your responsibility. For more information about the Census, visit www.agcensus.usda.gov or call 1-888-4AG-STAT (1-888-424-7828).