Guest column: Ag census important for industry

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 5, 2002

In the next few weeks, farmers across Minnesota and the United States will receive a 2002 Census of Agriculture report form. Conducted every five years, the census is an important information tool that benefits farmers by generating solid information about our fast-changing industry.

In Minnesota, the census is conducted by the Minnesota Agricultural Statistics Service, which is an office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), and also serves as the Agricultural Statistics Division of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. The division is made up of both state and federal employees working in a cooperative effort to promote economy and efficiency in collecting agricultural information.

The 2002 census of agriculture will be America’s 26th farm census, beginning with the first one in 1840. The census of agriculture is the only tool that gives a complete count of every operation in our nation. It is also the only source of uniform, comprehensive information on agricultural production, inventories, sales and expenses for all states and counties.

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&uot;But what’s in it for me?&uot; you may ask. &uot;Why should I take time to complete the census form?&uot;

The simple answer is that your response is required by law, and there are penalties for not responding. But that’s not the only reason. Farmers benefit both directly and indirectly from responding to the census of agriculture.

For example, farmers can use census data to spot trends that will help them decide which crops to grow or which livestock to raise. Main street businesses can use the data to identify sales territories and plot the most effective locations for retail outlets and value-added facilities. Farm organizations use the results to develop farm programs and policies. Equally important, this census information is used by federal and state policy makers to put together farm programs.

For those of us with a stake in agriculture, the census is the best source of information on farmland use, kinds and acreage of crops harvested, value of products sold, acres treated with fertilizers and pesticides, number and types of livestock raised, cost of fuels and energy consumed. Financial data generated by the census includes interest expenses, value of machinery and equipment, and farm-related income.

In order to prosper, farmers need knowledge &045; knowledge of changing technologies, industry developments, competing markets, and the wants and needs of the public. The census of agriculture can provide that knowledge, but only with your help.

The privacy of individual responses is protected by law. Completed census forms are confidential and may be seen only by NASS employees and used only for statistical purposes. The individual producer’s report is immune from legal processes.

So as you fill out your census form at the kitchen table or in the office, please remember that it is not a census of agriculture, but rather a census for agriculture. Thank you for your help.

Gene Hugoson is the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.