USDA launches agriculture census

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‘Tis the season to be counted, or so reads a headline from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is about to launch its Census of Agriculture, which happens once every five years.

In other words, in good old Uncle Sam fashion, the USDA wants farmers and ranchers to participate in the 2012 census by filling out and sending back forms that it is mailing out this week. Farmers and ranchers can also complete the form online.

Federal law requires all agricultural producers to participate, but smaller farms and ranches are also urged to join in the effort. The USDA defines a farm as “any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the Census year.”

The comprehensive survey is designed to count 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,” the agency says. “For America’s farmers and ranchers, the Census of Agriculture is their voice, their future and their responsibility.”

According to its website, Torrance County is one of the nation’s “most productive agricultural counties.” The same could easily be said about much of central New Mexico in general, which is added reason for local ranchers and farmers to fill out and send in the census forms promptly.

The census is important because it is the only source of uniform, comprehensive and impartial agricultural data for every county in the nation. The data are used by all those who serve farmers and rural communities, including agri-businesses, trade associations, chambers of commerce, and federal, state and local governments.

According to the USDA:

“Companies and cooperatives use the facts and figures to determine the locations of facilities that will serve agricultural producers.

“Community planners use the information to target needed services to rural residents.

“Legislators use the numbers from the census when shaping farm policies and programs.

“Farmers and ranchers can use census data to help make informed decisions about the future of their own operations.”

All individual information, by law, must be kept confidential. Data are used only for statistical purposes. The census report cannot be used for taxation, investigation or regulation.

Farmers and ranchers are asked to respond by Feb. 4, 2013. The results will be released in early 2014, according to a spokesman for the National Agricultural Statistics Service, the arm of the USDA conducting the census. Detailed reports will be published for all counties, states and the nation as a whole.

The last census, conducted in 2007, found that the number of farms in the United States had grown 4 percent and the operators of those farms had become more diverse during the previous five years.

Census forms and results of earlier surveys are available online at www.agcensus.usda.gov.