Extension Agent: 2012 census of agriculture coming soon

The United States Department of Agriculture - National Agricultural Statistics Service will be sending out more than three million census forms to farmers, ranchers and agricultural producers during the last week of December.

The census of agriculture conducts a census every five years to gather information about land use and tenure, operator characteristics, production information and economic information from farmers and ranchers throughout the United States.

This information has served beneficial for community planners, strategic planning for agricultural businesses, agricultural product promotion and to shape legislative farm policy.

As the population continues to shift away from production agriculture, it is more important than ever to collect good data to demonstrate the value and importance of the food and fiber industry to our community, state and national stakeholders. This is the only source of uniform, impartial and comprehensive data which can help influence decisions that will shape the future of American agriculture.

Data that is collected in this census has been used to allocate block grant dollars to states, to determine funding levels for conservation programs to counties and states, as well as direct research priorities and rural economic development expansion. The data is completely confidential in accordance with federal law and can only be published as aggregate totals at the county or state level.

Title Seven of the U.S. Code prohibits the National Agricultural Statistics Service from sharing individual information with any other government agency and provides immunity from any type of mandatory disclosure of individual data, including legal processes and the Freedom of Information Act.

Everyone who receives a census form is required to return the form. Those who no longer farm or have never been involved in agriculture that receive a census form must return the form with a note of explanation on the front page. Those who are no longer farming, but are enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program or the Wetlands Reserve Program, are counted as farms and therefore must complete the census form.

According to the USDA, it only takes $1,000 worth of agricultural production to be counted as a farm. A few head of livestock, hay production or laying hens for local egg sales could easily reach that amount in sales in a calendar year.

For questions regarding the 2012 Census of Agriculture, call 1-800-626-3142.

Merry Christmas to all and a joyous holiday season. It has been my privilege to serve as your County Extension Agent in 2012, and I look forward to a prosperous and blessed 2013.

Peter J. McGuill is the Victoria County extension agent- ag and natural resources. Contact him at 361-575-4581 or pjmcguill@ag.tamu.edu.