Comprehensive survey provides a complete profile of Oregon and US agriculture
The most ambitious and important agricultural survey of all is getting underway in Oregon and the rest of the fifty states as the 2012 Census of Agriculture
literally reaches out to every farmer and rancher in the United States.
Katy Coba, director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, encourages the state’s producers to cooperate with the census being conducted by the US Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).
“There are many reasons for our producers to provide the information requested by the census, but the most compelling is that information about our agriculture is key for policy makers to make good and informed decisions that affect the industry,” says Coba.
The Census of Agriculture is conducted every five years, and even though this one is considered the 2012 Census, the actual results and reports won’t be completed until early 2014. That’s because of the huge amount of information and details that need to be gathered and analyzed.
“The census provides a comprehensive snapshot for Oregon all the way down to the county level and gives all kinds of information about the farm population, “says Chris Mertz, state director for the Oregon Field Office of USDA-NASS, whose staff is responsible for conducting the census in Oregon.
Questionnaires are being sent in the next couple of weeks to all farmers on record. Completed surveys are due February 4, 2013. Timely, complete, and accurate responses to the questions in the agricultural report forms are essential.
“It would be worth their while for farmers and ranchers to complete the survey,” says Mertz. “There are many policy decisions that are made at the national and state level that will result from the survey. Federal, state, and local decision makers use the information to serve local farmers and develop programs that assist them in times of need. We need data that is as accurate as possible because it definitely helps the agricultural community and population in general by presenting the real story of agriculture in Oregon and the US.”
Figures compiled by the census are used to determine funding for extension work, research, soil conservation, and other agricultural-related services. Private industry uses census statistics to provide more effective production and distribution systems– for example, to locate feed mills and farm equipment dealerships where they will provide better service and offer competitive prices to farmers. Information from such statistical data helps make the case for specific grant program dollars.
“The census asks a lot of questions about crops, livestock, land use, ownership, equipment, chemicals used, and demographic-type questions,” says Mertz.
There will be the usual questions on acreage of various crops, production values, and cost of production numbers. The last census introduced questions on organic commodities, energy, conservation methods, and community-supported agriculture. New this time around, producers will be asked about on-farm renewable energy production and land use practices. Many of these questions will simply ask for a yes-no response, but could lead to more detailed questions in subsequent surveys in the near future.
Acreage data continues to be of special interest to officials in Oregon, where population pressures have created a strong debate on land use and protection of farmland– particularly in the rich and fertile Willamette Valley. Knowing just how many acres of farmland have been lost since the last census could be important.
“Census information helps all parties as they go through the debate on how this valuable resource shall be utilized, and will provide unbiased data for all sides in the ongoing concerns over saving natural habitat,” says Mertz. “It gives people one solid block of information to take to the table as these debates continue.”
The numbers provide similar help in analyzing and developing polices on water use for irrigation as well as rural development.
This year, questionnaires are being mailed out to more than 38,000 farmers and ranchers in Oregon. All should be receiving their copies shortly after the new year. The 24-page questionnaire should be able to be completed within a half an hour for most producers.
Once again this year, the Census of Agriculture offers respondents an online option.
"We expect more farmers to select the online option," says Mertz. "The information packet coming in the mail will have instructions on how to respond electronically.”
The online option involves a secure website. Those who plan on sending back the information the old fashioned way will need to put the census forms in the mail by the February 4, 2008 deadline.
For census purposes, a farm is any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold or normally would have been sold during the census year.
“That’s especially important in Oregon where we have so many small producers who report between a thousand and $10,000 in annual sales,” says Mertz.
The law requiring farmers and ranchers to complete the census forms also protects confidentiality and privacy of information they supply. Individual forms cannot be seen by anyone but sworn NASS employees.
The agriculture census is the only source of uniform data down to the county level on agricultural production and inventories. Originally taken every ten years, farm census data has been collected every five years since 1920. Historical census data is actually available from as early as 1840.
For now, information about 2012 is all that's needed from Oregon's farmers and ranchers.2012 Census of Agriculture information
Media contact: Chris Mertz at (503) 326-2131.PDF versionAudio version