For Release December 17, 2002

Time For Another Census of Agriculture

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

If you own a farm/ranch or are actively engaged in farming/ranching, listen up! Any day now, in addition to all those Christmas cards you are getting in the mail, you will be receiving the forms for the 2002 Census of Agriculture. Unlike the population census, which is performed every ten years, the census of agriculture is taken every five years! But just like the population census, federal law requires that you fill out your census form and return it by February 3, 2003. So just when youíre busy getting to work on taxes you have yet another form to fill out!

So other than because itís the law, why should you fill out the census of agriculture? Isnít it just another way for the government to pry into the details of your farming and ranching business? Well, the data is used by a lot of people. I personally use the census figures to help me evaluate trends in agriculture. I use the census data, along with the annual reports from the Kansas Ag Statistics service, to help in making programming plans. Whether we like it or not, state and federal legislators use the census data as they work not only on farm bills, but on other legislation. So taking the time to properly fill out the form is very critical.

As far as confidentiality goes, many steps are taken to protect your personal information. Any information that could possibly be traced back to an individual producer is kept hidden. Letís say that you were the only person in Geary County raising cranberries. When the reports come out, they wouldnít show how many acres or how much production of cranberries were in Geary county. There would be a footnote saying that the data was not published to avoid disclosure of individual reports. If you were the only cranberry producer in Kansas, then the state report would say the same thing. The value of production would be lumped in with everything else so that itís worth was included in the county and state figures. But there would be no way to separate your cranberry data from all the rest of the information.

One change this year is who is conducting the census. All previous agricultural censuses, were conducted by the Census Bureau of the US Department of Commerce. Now, while the Census Bureau understands how to take a census, they donít necessarily know a whole lot about agriculture. This year, the National Agricultural Statistics Service, the division of the Agriculture Department that issues crop and ag statistical reports, has been assigned to conduct the census of agriculture. Each stateís ag statistics service is now responsible for the census in their own state. So the same folks that issue our weekly and monthly crop and livestock reports for Kansas, will be doing the Kansas census.

As in the past, everyone will get to answer questions on crops and livestock, products sold, production expenses, government farm payments, etc. A lucky 20% of the respondents will have the pleasure to answer even more questions on market value of land and buildings, additional fertilizer and pesticide information, etc.

Sure, filling out the census is going to be a bit of a pain. But it comes at a time when you should be getting everything together for your taxes anyway. But remember, the deadline is February 3. When the form arrives, put it with your tax stuff. Donít think about it during the holidays, but as soon as January 1st rolls around, get started on the 2002 Census of Agriculture!


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