first_imgThis year, for the first time, the census is conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’sNational Agricultural Statistics Service. Before, the Census Bureau had conducted theagricultural census. U.S. farmers and ranchers have until Feb. 2 to report their 1997 operations to be counted inthe 25th Census of Agriculture. The census offers a complete accounting of U.S. farmproduction. To make it easier to report, this year’s census forms ask questions about basic subjects.Among them are land use and ownership, crop acreage and quantities harvested, livestock andpoultry inventories, value of crops and livestock sold and farm operation characteristics. The census also provides a national history of agriculture. It was taken every 10 years from1840 to 1920 and every five years from 1925 until 1974. The law was then changed to gatherdata on years ending in two and seven, beginning with the 1982 census. “The dynamic nature of agriculture makes the census important,” said University of Georgiaexpert Horace Hudson. He heads Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education andCommunication in the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Federal law requires farmers to answer the census. The same law also protects the privacy oftheir reports. They may be seen only by sworn USDA employees and used only for statisticalpurposes. Copies submitted by farmers are immune from legal processes. Farmers and ranchers who need help completing the census form may call their countyExtension Service office. Or they can call the NASS office at (888) 424-7828. Furtherinformation is also on-line at www.usda.gov/nass/. * Farm organizations use census data to evaluate and propose programs and policies that canhelp farmers. * Rural electric companies use it to forecast future energy needs for farms and farmcommunities. The data provided by the census has many uses: “I don’t think people realize how much a part of their communities agriculture is,” said SueBoatright. The data collection coordinator for the CAES department of agricultural and appliedeconomics, she is also a coauthor of the annual Georgia County Guide. * Colleges and universities use it in research programs to develop new and improved ways toincrease production. * Elected representatives use the data to develop programs to protect and promote U.S.agriculture. “Constant, significant changes happen every four or five years in agriculture. And we need tohave a record of those changes,” Hudson said. “We also have several commodities in Georgia,like kenaf, that are in their infancy, and we need to chart their growth.” The census, the only source of uniform, comprehensive farm data for every U.S. county, is atool to help determine acres planted and harvested by crop. It gives valuable information tofarm organizations and business planners. Policy makers also use the information in proposingnational farm policy. “Most important for farmers, it’s not just a help. It’s the law,” Hudson said. * Agribusinesses use the data to develop market strategies and to learn the most effectiveplaces of service to farmers. About 25 percent of the farms will be asked other questions on production expenses,machinery inventories, market value of land and buildings and income from farm-relatedsources. “The census gives information about the counties that isn’t available anywhere else,” she said.”It tells just how much of the economy is dependent on agriculture and agribusiness.” last_img read more