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Census of Agriculture is worth a look

By Staff | Feb 27, 2009

American agriculture is an enormous, diverse part of the U.S. economy. Every five years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service conducts a Census of Agriculture to develop a detailed compilation of facts and figures regarding the nation’s farms.

Early this month, USDA released some of the data from the 2007 edition of this highly useful census. Tom Vilsack, the new secretary of agriculture, greeted the latest findings with enthusiasm.

“The Census of Agriculture is a valuable tool that provides the general public with an accurate, comprehensive view of American agriculture,” he said in a statement Feb. 4, highlighting the findings. “It’s also a set of benchmarks against which this department must measure and demonstrate its performance to agriculture and the taxpayer.”

Analysts will be pouring over the census data for years, but it’s worth taking note of some of the most interesting numbers.

The number of farms in the U.S. is growing – up 4 percent in the last five years.

The 2007 counted 30 percent more women as principal operators than was the case in the last census.

Approximately 36 percent of U.S. farms are classified as “residential/lifestyle farms, with sales of less than $250,000 and operators with a primary occupation other than farming.”

Just over one-fifth or American farms – 21 percent – are categorized as “retirement farms, which have sales less than $250,000 and operators who reported they are retired.”

Most farmers have Internet access – 57 percent.

According to the USDA, the Census of Agriculture is a complete count of farms, ranches and the people who operate them.

Vilsack said his department will be putting the census findings to work fine tuning USDA programs “to make sure that the People’s Department is hard at work for all the people – our diverse customers and the full diversity of agriculture.”

The census data are an important resource for USDA personnel, but should also prove intriguing to anyone with even a casual interest in 21st century farm life. The census results can be accessed at www.agcensus.usda.gov. Take a look, you’ll find the numbers fascinating.

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