Census forms sitting on a table

Why participate in the ag census?

December 8, 2022 | Bethany Baratta

I talked to Tony Dahlman, USDA-NASS agricultural statistician, about why the census is important and why farmers should participate.

Who receives the Census of Agriculture?

The Census of Agriculture is a complete count of all U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them. A farm is defined as any operation that produces and sells or would normally sell $1,000 or more of agricultural products during the Census year. Government payments are also included in the $1,000, so some individuals with acres enrolled in conservation programs may meet the USDA definition of a farm. The USDA is sending out 2.8 million Census forms across the nation. 

How often do you send the Census of Agriculture?

The Census of Agriculture is conducted every five years for years ending in 2 and 7 (2022, 2027, etc). An invitation to respond online to the Census was mailed on November 22. A paper questionnaire will be mailed on December 13. 

How long is the Census of Agriculture? How much time will it take to complete?

The amount of time necessary to complete the Census will depend on the complexity of the operation. Producers who choose to fill out the Census online will also benefit from being able to automatically skip questions that do not apply to their operation. The paper questionnaire is 24 pages long and we estimate the form will take on average 50 minutes including time for reviewing instructions, gathering data, and completing the questionnaire.

What kind of questions can I expect from the Census of Agriculture?

The Census looks at land use and ownership, operator characteristics, production practices, income, and expenditures. This comprehensive look at operations provides data that can best help serve American agriculture.

Why should I complete the Census of Agriculture?

The Census of Agriculture provides the only source of uniform, comprehensive, and impartial agriculture data for every state and county in the nation. This data is used by those who serve farmers and rural communities. Ag producers can use Census data make informed decisions about their own operations, from production practices to marketing.

What if I don't want participate?

Every response is important and makes the data stronger. We believe that when producers understand the benefits to them and their communities, they will want to take part. If we do not hear from an individual producer, we will follow up by mail, telephone, and sometimes personal visits. 

How do the results impact associations like the Iowa Soybean Association?

USDA-NASS is an unbiased source of information. Associations appreciate that this data is available for their ongoing studies, education, and research initiatives.

Commodity associations like the Iowa Soybean Association and the American Soybean Association use Census data regularly in their advocacy and research work.

  • When the Iowa Soybean Association say they advocate on behalf of the state’s 40,000 soybean producers, this number came from 2017 Census of Agriculture. The 2022 Census will show any updates to the producer numbers in the last five years.
  • The Iowa Soybean Association’s Research Center for Farming Innovation researches many agronomic and conservation practices including the use of cover crops. The Census provides the only county-level data on cover crop acreage nationwide and helps identify trends that can help tailor research. On U.S. cropland, the use of cover crops increased by 50 percent between 2012 and 2017. The anticipated growth of cover crop acreage from 2017 to 2022 is of great interest to organizations interested in conservation practices.
  • There has been a rapid expansion of soybean processing facilities in the United States over the last few years. When investors in soybean crush plants are looking for new locations for facilities, they can use current and historic county-level Census data to determine the production of soybeans and other oilseeds in the area to help ensure sustainable supply.  

Is my individual data going to be kept private?

USDA-NASS is bound by law and pledges to every respondent to use all survey responses for statistical purposes only and to only publish aggregated data so that no individual or farm can be identified. Each year, every person working at USDA-NASS signs a confidentiality certification stating that survey data must not be compromised. Any offender would receive severe punishment of a jail term up to 5 years, a fine of up to $250,000, or both.

When is the Census of Agriculture due back to USDA?

The Census of Agriculture is due back to the USDA on February 6, 2023.

How can I learn more?

More information can be found at https://agcensus.usda.gov. If you need help filling out your survey, NASS Customer Support is available at (888) 424-7828.

 *Editor’s note: Tony Dahlman is currently employed as an Agricultural Statistician for the USDA – National Agricultural Statistics Service (USDA-NASS) where he works for the Upper Midwest Regional Field Office in Des Moines. The regional field office is one of 12 in the U.S., covering Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Tony has worked for USDA-NASS for 16 years, including a seven-year period in headquarters in Washington, D.C. where his last assignment was the National Soybean Statistician, helping to set all the official soybean estimates for USDA-NASS.