American agriculture is an enormous, diverse part of the U.S. economy. Every five years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service conducts a Census of Agriculture to develop a detailed compilation of facts and figures regarding the nation's farms and ranches. The goal of the Census is to provide a source of "uniform, comprehensive agricultural data for every county in the nation," according to an overview released by the USDA.
By early this month, all farmers and ranchers should have received Census forms in the mail. They can be returned by mail or through a secure USDA website - www.agcensus.usda.gov.
Participation is not optional. All agricultural producers are required by federal law to complete and return the forms. The deadline for this submission is Feb. 4. The confidentiality of the information farmers and ranchers submit is also mandated by law. Data will only be made public in aggregate form. Information that can be traced back to a particular individual will not be released.
It is very much in the interest of the agricultural community and the nation as whole to have a thorough and accurate Census. The information generated by the Census has enormous influence on community growth and development, according to the USDA.
"The 2012 Census of Agriculture provides farmers with a powerful voice," U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement released last month by the USDA. "The information gathered through the Census influences policy decisions that can have a tremendous impact on farmers and their communities for years to come. I strongly encourage all farmers, no matter how large or small their operation, to promptly complete and return their Census, so they can voice to the nation the value and importance of agriculture."
In explaining the significance of the Census, Vilsack noted that companies frequently take the data into account when making crucial decisions regarding where to locate and when to expand.
The Census of Agriculture provides a vital overview of American agriculture. The completed Census is a comprehensive look at production practices, land use, land ownership and much, much more. Not only does the Census influence decisions about the future of agriculture, but it also documents the huge role rural America plays in building a strong, vibrant U.S. economy.
When the 2012 Census of Agriculture is released some months hence, it will be a resource for decision makers. It should also prove fascinating to anyone with even a casual interest in 21st-century farm life.