The National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is currently conducting the 2017 U.S. Census of Agriculture. New and previously uncontacted farmers and ranchers are encouraged to sign up before June 30, 2017, to provide a complete and impartial data set.
Every five years, NASS conducts a complete count of all farms and ranches in the United States and the people who operate them through the Census of Agriculture. The data they gather is used by other agencies, private companies, and nonprofits to inform the federal budget, policy, community planning, conservation programs, and more. The diverse uses of this information include tracking honey bee populations, determining cropland carbon emissions, and discovering what influences the spread of crop viruses.
Food Tank had the opportunity to talk to NASS Public Affairs Specialist Teresa White, Head of Census Production Section Amanda Dawson, and Chief of the Census Planning Branch Donald Buysse about the Agricultural Census and its importance.
Food Tank (FT): What is the Agriculture Census and why is it important?
Teresa White (TW): The Census of Agriculture, taken just once every five years, is a complete count of all U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them. It looks at land use and ownership, operator characteristics, production practices, income and expenditures, and more. The Census of Agriculture provides the only source of uniform, comprehensive and impartial agricultural data for every county in the nation. Through the census, producers can show the nation the value and importance of agriculture, and they can help influence the decisions that will shape the future of American agriculture for years to come. By responding to the Census of Agriculture, producers are helping themselves, their communities, and all of U.S. agriculture. The Census of Agriculture is their voice, their future, and their opportunity.
FT: Who should participate and how?
TW: Every U.S. farmer and rancher. The census definition of a farm is any place from which US$1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the census year (2017). That definition includes millions of voices, urban and rural.
Those who are new to farming or did not receive a Census of Agriculture in 2012, still have time to sign up to receive the 2017 Census of Agriculture questionnaire through June by going to www.agcensus.usda.gov and clicking on the ‘Make Sure You Are Counted’ button.
While there, producers can get more information about the census—past and present—and try the improved online census questionnaire demo. Dynamic and convenient, the online census questionnaire is accessible on any electronic device, calculates totals automatically, and skips questions that do not pertain to your operation. We hope producers will keep it in mind for when they respond later this year because responding to the census has never been easier.
The National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) will mail the 2017 Census of Agriculture questionnaires to producers this December. Completed forms, either completed online or returned by mail, are due by February 5, 2018.
FT: How are the data used?
TW: Census results are valuable to those who serve farmers and rural communities, including federal, state and local governments, agribusinesses, trade associations, extension educators, researchers, even farmers and ranchers themselves. Answers to the census can help grow a farm’s future, shape farm programs, and boost services for communities and the industry.
FT: How has the Agriculture Census affected policy in the past?
Amanda Dawson (AD): The primary purpose of the Census of Agriculture Program is to provide a count of all farms in the United States every five years. The census data is the only source of uniform, comprehensive, and unbiased agriculture data for every State, county, and county equivalent. Farm organizations, businesses, State departments of agriculture, elected government officials, analysts, news media, and academia all utilize the census of agriculture data. The data are used to show agricultural statistics on the food we produce, assess farm income and expenditures, provide vital data about farm demographics, analyze historical agricultural trends to formulate farm and rural policies, and develop programs that help producers and support agricultural production.
The census data is essential for policy-makers and decision-making. Therefore, many USDA agencies rely heavily on census results to measure the current agricultural and food supply conditions, identify environmental issues across the nation, and help assess the global economy. For instance, the Farm Service Agency (FSA), utilizes the census data to determine loan criteria eligibility for beginning farmers and establish lending targets for minority operators or women producers. The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) routinely relies on agricultural census data in research programs, presentations, and publications. Another USDA agency, the Economic Research Service (ERS), depends on agricultural census data for farm characteristic information, which paints a more precise picture of the U.S. farm typology.
FT: Based on previous data, what directions are agriculture taking in the United States?
Donald Buysse (DB): Although this is not an emerging trend, in the last several years there has been more of an emphasis on capturing the role of women in farming. For the 2017 Census of Agriculture, NASS added questions to better understand the contributions that women make to our Nation’s farms and ranches. These data will be used to design and target programs specifically to assist women involved in agriculture.
An example of an emerging trend in agriculture is the perceived rise in alternative marketing practices. In addition to collecting data from farms and ranches that market directly to consumers, NASS, for the first time in the 2012 Census of Agriculture, collected data regarding the number of farms and ranches that market agriculture products through non-traditional marketing channels such as restaurants, hospitals, and schools. Economists and analysts will look to data from the upcoming 2017 Census of Agriculture as an indication whether consumers are increasingly more interested in knowing where their food comes from, suggesting that there is perhaps a greater desire to support a more localized food system.