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Census of Agriculture seeks to document impact of farming and ranching

Farmer Brandon Hunnicutt, a member of the Nebraska Corn Board, climbs onto his combine to harvest soybeans on Oct. 5, 2016 (NTV News)

In between harvest and planting comes paperwork season, and farmers have an opportunity to provide data that can shape farm policy.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is starting to mail out the 2017 Census of Agriculture. Every five years, the National Agricultural Statistics Service conducts a government survey of American agriculture, collecting data that's used by industry groups, researchers, policymakers, media, as well as farmers and ranchers.

According to the last census in 2012, the average age of principal operators of Nebraska farms and ranches was 55.7 years, with 59.7 percent of these operators reporting farming/ranching as their primary occupation. These and thousands of other statistics are only available as a direct result of response to the census.

A NASS press release said the data can play a vital role in community planning, farm assistance programs, technology development, farm advocacy, agribusiness setup, rural development, and more.

“Legislators use data from the census when shaping farm policies and programs,” said Dean Groskurth, director of the NASS Northern Plains Field Office. “Community planners and local governments also use the information to target needed programs and services to rural residents. Responding to the census is an opportunity for Nebraska voices to be heard by individuals who develop policies which affect their future.”

USDA will be mailing the census out in phases throughout December.

Farms of all sizes which produced and sold (or normally would have sold) $1,000 or more of agricultural products in 2017 are included. The census is the only source of uniform, comprehensive, and impartial agriculture data for every state and county in the nation.

This time, NASS has revised the census questionnaire in an attempt to better document change and emerging trends in the industry. One change includes a new question about military veteran status, plus expanded questions about food marketing practices, and questions about on-farm decision-making to help better capture the roles and contributions of beginning farmers, women farmers, and others involved in running a farm enterprise.

“Producers can respond to the census online or by mail. We highly recommend the updated online questionnaire,” said NASS Administrator Hubert Hamer. “We heard what people wanted and we made responding to the census easier than ever. The online questionnaire now has timesaving features, such as automatic calculations, and the convenience of being accessible on mobile and desktop devices.”

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