Wednesday, March 22, 2017

During National Ag Week, the numbers count

Mike Louisell

How many times have you heard that the public will understand and support agriculture more if farmers would just tell their story better? One key part of telling that story is the numbers that help quantify the amazing work that farmers do.

Washington’s farmers and ranchers will soon have the opportunity to help tell that story by taking part in the 2017 Census of Agriculture. Held every five years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), the census provides a count of U.S. farms, ranches, those who operate them and much more.

“All types and sizes of farms and ranches have a story to be told through the census,” said Chris Mertz, Northwest regional director for NASS’ office in Olympia.

Information gained through the census helps USDA shape programs that help agriculture, by sharing information such as:

  • How many farms there are in each state and the average acres per farm?
  • Land use, ownership, and production practices.
  • Income and expenditures.
  • Operator characteristics and demographics, including the number of farms operated by women and military service veterans.

Census of Ag mailout

As we continue to share current statistics during National Ag Week, the next highly anticipated survey is still a year away.

“We’ll continue to talk about the importance of the census, particularly as we move closer to mailing out census forms in December,” Mertz said.

NASS also hopes to increase the number of farmers who respond online. The online census form allows producers to skip over questions that don’t apply to them, calculates totals automatically and provides drop-down menus for common answers.

“Since our 2012 Census, NASS has put great efforts in improving the online reporting experience,” Mertz said. “I’ve seen demonstrations and it’s impressive.”

Washington response above average

Although NASS statisticians and support staff produce many surveys each year, the Census of Agriculture is the only source of uniform and comprehensive agricultural data for every county in the U.S. Washington had a response rate of 78.4% in the 2012 Census of Agriculture, slightly higher than other states.

“This is the ag community’s opportunity to help shape American agriculture – its policies, services, and assistance programs,” Mertz said.

The results are relied upon heavily by those who serve farmers and rural communities, including federal, state and local governments, agribusinesses, trade associations, extension educators, researchers, and farmers and ranchers themselves.

Producers who are new to farming or did not receive a Census of Agriculture in 2012 can sign up to receive the 2017 Census of Agriculture report form by visiting and clicking on the ‘Make Sure You Are Counted’ button.

The NASS 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, in this case 2017.