There’s still time. To ensure an accurate representation of the agriculture industry in this country, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service has extended its 2017 Census of Agriculture response deadline through spring, and the Rural Coalition/Coalición Rural is calling on all farmers and ranchers to participate.
Representing thousands of diverse producers throughout the United States, the RC has worked for 40 years to promote just and sustainable rural development that brings fair returns to farmers and communities. It also works to protect the environment and bring safe and healthy food to consumers.
As an advocacy voice, the RC secured more than 30 sections of policies in the 2008 Farm Bill that provided more opportunities for small and minority producers, and developed methods to serve its constituencies.
Small and minority producers need policymakers to respect their value. According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, small farms make up 88 percent of all U.S. farms. Data like this demonstrates economic importance.
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With a new Farm Bill around the corner, this is the time to be counted.
The Census of Agriculture, conducted every five years and sent to every farm and ranch in the country, is the only source of uniform, comprehensive and impartial agriculture data down to the county level. Providing an overall picture of agriculture, census data are relied on when making important decisions about farm policy, disaster relief, loan programs, research, technology development, infrastructure improvements and more. Trade associations, extension educators, agribusinesses, even farmers and ranchers themselves have used census data to support American agriculture.
For nearly 30 years, the Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program has been the primary tool to help historically underserved producers gain access to USDA’s credit, commodity, conservation services. In the four years of the 2008 Farm Bill, the program got $75 million in mandatory funds, about $18 million per year. During that time, the number of Hispanic and Asian-American farmers increased 21 percent, African-American farmers increased 12 percent and Native American farmers increased 5 percent.
In the 2014 Farm Bill, Congress expanded the program to include Veteran farmers, making increased funding all the more necessary. However, that Farm Bill reduced mandatory funds to only $10 million annually.
If everyone is counted, data from the 2017 Census of Agriculture will help make the case for restoring the funding needed to bring the program to its previous levels – or better.
For farmers and ranchers, the Census of Agriculture is their voice, their opportunity to be represented in the numbers. There’s strength in numbers.
This year’s ag census aims to provide an even more detailed account of the industry. Producers will see a question about veteran status, expanded questions about marketing practices, and questions about decision-making to better capture the roles and contributions of new farmers, women and others running the business.
What will the 2017 Census of Agriculture tell us about changes over the last five years?
We’ll see. But first we must ensure an accurate representation of the industry – not just for the future of your operation, but your community. Respond to your Census of Agriculture today.
Lorette Picciano is executive director of the Rural Coalition/Coalición; Willard Tillman represents the Oklahoma Black Historical Research Project; and Rudy Arredondo represents National Latino Farmers and Ranchers Trade Association on the Rural Coalition/Coalición board.