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Ag census vitally important info

By Staff | Jul 31, 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. The goal of the census is to provide a source of “uniform, comprehensive agricultural data for every county in the nation,” according to an overview of the census released by the USDA.

Commenting on the 2007 edition of this highly useful census, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack stressed the importance of the information that has been assembled.

“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 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 census found the U.S. has 2,204,792 farms.
  • The 2007 count shows 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.
  • Iowa has 92,856 farms, 92 percent of which are less the 1,000 acres.

According to the USDA, the Census of Agriculture is a complete count of farms, ranches and the people who operate them. The USDA has had responsibility for the Census of Agriculture since 1997, but agricultural censuses have been conducted in the United States since 1840. For 156 years – 1840 through 1996 – they were handled by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

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. Additionally, this issue of Farm News has a special section featuring census findings by county.

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