Once every five years farmers have a chance to do something extremely important. It’s not complicated and it will exert great influence on legislators, government administrators, farmers and agribusinesses. Oh yes, it’s also the law. What is it? the 2012 Census of Agriculture.
In Virginia, Governor Bob McDonnell has declared January, 2013, as Virginia Census of Agriculture Month. That’s how important it is. January 2013 is the commemorative month for the 2012 Ag Census because 2012 is the production year but reporting occurs in January through the first week of February.
I believe that all of the commissioners, directors or secretaries of agriculture in the 50 states join me in encouraging the farmers of their respective states to take the gg census seriously, and to complete it by the February 4, 2013, deadline. Federal and state leaders use the information collected through the census to make policy decisions that have substantial impacts on agriculture. I believe it is of the utmost importance to all of us in agriculture that those decisions are based on the most accurate and objective information possible.
The kind of information available through the ag census is not available anywhere else, and this year, it is collecting some new information. The 2012 census asks for the number of acres under conservation tillage practices, acres planted to cover crops and acres under conservation easements. This information will be critical in documenting the work farmers are doing collectively to be good stewards of the environment. Through the census, producers can show the nation the value and importance of agriculture both environmentally and economically.
The census is conducted every five years and participation is required by law. It defines a farm as any place that produced and sold, or normally would have sold, $1,000 or more of agricultural products during the census year (2012). I encourage all agricultural operations to report, regardless of their size.
The Census of Agriculture - a complete count of all U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them - is the only source of uniform, comprehensive and impartial agricultural data for every county in the nation. Local and national leaders use information from the census to make decisions that directly impact the agricultural industry, rural development and other resource-based industries and small businesses. In addition, farmers and ag-related businesses can use the information to make decisions about their own business development opportunities. By responding to the census, producers are helping themselves, their communities and all of U.S. agriculture.
Individual information provided to the census must be kept confidential by law. USDA will begin releasing results from the survey in February 2014. For more information, producers should go to agcensus.usda.gov/index.php and for answers to frequently asked questions, the place to go is agcensus.usda.gov/Partners/FAQs/Census_FAQs.pdf.
Here you can find out, among other things, what the ag census is, why it is important, who uses the data collected and how it is collected. You will even see the U.S. code that dictates that everyone who receives a census form must fill it out and return it, even if they did not operate a farm or ranch in 2012.
Let me echo the words of our Governor in his concluding paragraph of the Virginia Census of Agriculture Month proclamation: “Now, therefore, I do hereby recognize January 2013, as Virginia Census of Agriculture Month in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and call this observance to the attention of all our citizens and urge all farm households to give complete support for this important farm census.”
We will be filling out and returning the census form on our farm, and I encourage every other Virginia farmer and farmers throughout this readership area to do the same.
Matthew J. Lohr is commissioner of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.