My husband and I live on a midsized farm in northwestern Minnesota, where we grow corn, soybeans, sugar beets, wheat, and alfalfa. Several of our grown children are farmers too, raising families and teaching them how to be competent, resourceful future farmers. We all rely on good policy that effectively keeps farms operational – especially young farmers who need startup capital and supportive risk-management tools. So every five years, my family does something very important for our farms and communities – we complete the Census of Agriculture. We do this because we want the census to show the value of the work we do and we want to be reflected in the data that can and probably will have an impact on the future of our operations.
Census data play a big role in a lot of areas but one that affects us all is the Farm Bill. The Farm Bill encompasses farm commodity support, crop insurance coverage and disaster aid, nutrition assistance, trade, research, rural development, and more. The most recent bill, the Agricultural Act of 2014, expires this year. Policymakers will use Census of Agriculture data as a tool to help them address current and potential agriculture and food issues in the new bill. This is why it’s imperative that every U.S. farmer and rancher be represented. Our collective responses to the census mean accuracy and strength – it means better data.
What did the last Census of Agriculture tell us? Here are some highlights: We know that 3.2 million farmers operated 2.1 million farms covering 915 million acres, generating food, fuel, and fiber for the rest of America and people around the world. This means that 40 percent of all U.S. land was farmland being worked by less than one percent of the total U.S. population in 2012. Of the 2.1 million farms, 97 percent were family-owned. Eighty-eight percent of all farms were small family farms. The last census also revealed an increase in women, Hispanic, Asian, and African American farmers, and that beginning farmers operated one quarter of all farms. What will the 2017 Census of Agriculture tell us? This year’s census aims to capture an even more detailed account of American agriculture with new questions about military veteran status, marketing practices, and the roles and contributions of individuals working the farm, including women and our next generation.
Though the first census response deadline has come and gone, USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service will follow-up with producers and collect data through spring to ensure as complete a representation of U.S. agriculture as possible. If you have not already responded, I urge you to do so. Our voices are only heard if we have the numbers behind them. I am a farmer, and I will continue to be counted because my family and our farms count.
For more on the census and past census data, visit www.agcensus.usda.gov.
Karolyn Zurn is First Vice President of American Agri-Women, a national association with more than 40,000 members nationwide.