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Across the Editor's Desk -- 2012: Make it count

Updated: 01/14/2013 @ 2:24pm

Did you get your Ag Census in the mail? You're one of 3 million who did. Here's a bit of history about the survey, which is taken every five years:

The Ag Census was first done in 1840.

In 1929, 25% of the U.S. population was involved in farming; by 1970, that number was 4.8%.

The Ag Census takes two years to prepare and won't be published until February 2014.

Why do an Ag Census? Congress mandates it, for one reason. Second, it gives all of us – farmers and ranchers, Congress, and consumers – an accurate picture of the state of U.S. agriculture. Renee Picanso, the director of the USDA's Census and Survey Division for the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), says it helps form the basis for policy, programs and, yes, even funding. But Picanso also suggests that without a census, “farmers won't get any attention in Congress.”

My sense from farmers is there is some skepticism sharing personal data, such as demographics, acreages, gross income, expenses, and farming practices. Picanso agrees, but says, “we need the best data we can get.”

You may also wonder:

“Will they share my data with anyone?” Picanso is quick to assure that the survey is private and that NASS cannot share data with any agency, under the threat of a $250,000 fine. Not even to the IRS.

“Does it take too much time?” The survey is 24 pages, but most farms only need to fill out five or six pages.

“What if I don't fill it out?” They'll try again. A postcard reminder. Then a phone call. Maybe even a personal visit.

Whether you see it as a necessity or a nuisance, Picanso pledges that you can have an impact. “The bigger impact, the bigger voice agriculture has,” she says.

Here's to a successful 2013. Make it count.

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