Many farmers, ranchers and homesteaders are getting a surprise in their mail at this time of year. The United States Department of Agriculture has started sending out the 2017 Census of Agriculture. Sadly, in a world filled with so many scams attempting to gain your information for nefarious reasons and a distrust of the government, the agricultural census has been met with distrust.

Naturally, most homesteaders, farmers and ranchers have an independent streak. We crave the independence that this lifestyle lends us, and we desire to hold onto it with our might, especially since it seems to be under attack from numerous directions lately. Despite what may at first seem as an invasion of privacy, the census is nothing new to producers and actually provides a means of opportunity for those involved with agriculture.
The first Census of Agriculture was taken in 1840. In fact, you can even see the details of this document online through the official historical archive website! Although the agricultural census itself is not new, as more new people venture into agriculture, the arrival of this document may come as a bit of a shock and is often greeted with suspicion.

Just as agriculture has grown, and diversified and so has the census. The current agricultural census can seem overwhelming or even intimidating. In fact, there are pages of questions. Why do they need to ask all of these questions anyway? There are actually several very valid reasons.

One of the first things that you will note is that not all of the questions are relevant to individual agricultural operations. Agriculture is a huge industry and fitting it all into one questionnaire is no easy feat. Believe it or not, all of these targeted, industry specific questions are created to help each of these individual areas of agriculture.
Once the census has been completed and calculated, the numbers are made public. Although your personal information is protected, the overall data is calculated and published. These numbers are used by numerous offices, from the United States Department of Agriculture, to state and local levels, and even down to the local real estate agent. The data that is collected is what helps drive, change or stop policies.

One of the strongest reasons for filling out the agricultural census is personal. The census of agriculture is your opportunity to be counted! It is no secret that when it comes to politics and politicians, favor usually follows the side with the numbers, or votes, that seem to have the most pull. Is there a current fight for zoning changes in your area? Land use? Land value? All of these things are affected by the show of numbers collected in the census.

Another way that the census data is used is to justify the employment and operation of your county’s local Extension office. The extension office is an invaluable, and free, tool for agricultural producers of any size. From the hobbyist to the large commercial farms, your local Extension agent has their finger on the pulse of agriculture in your local area. They are a wonderful resource. However, in a time where funding is short, the numbers shown in the census can mean the difference between an office that is fully staffed, or one that is not running at all. These numbers justify the employment, and programs that are offered to your community, at no cost.

Even the fate of local businesses may be determined by census information. Any business that is considering starting in an area does due diligence. Opening a business is not a venture taken lightly by the owners, investors, suppliers, and more. Research on the impact, and potential clientele, that the business will have within the local area is required for most startups. From franchisers, product wholesale contracts or even banks for startup loans, they want to see more than your dream on paper, they want to see the numbers. The information provided by the census will inform these new businesses where it would be advantageous to open. New businesses mean economic opportunity for residents and also money in your pocket. The savings of having a store that can supply your needed items, without shipping, or a long drive that employs and trains local residents is a win for any community.

Regardless of whether or not you may personally believe in taking loans or grants through the government or other banking entities, this information is used when it comes to allocating funds for specific areas. Different areas get set amounts of funds based on the numbers provided in these documents. Although different ventures may take different means of getting their agricultural endeavors funded and started, our lack of response should not be a way to damage the chances of those seeking a new beginning.

Are certain crops in an area not producing? Is there a trend to production that could benefit other farmers? Are the organic farms outproducing conventional ones? The Census information also helps to guide research, allocate program funding and identify potential problems. With all of the recent concerns about the fate of the honeybee, where do you think that the data come from showing hive numbers? The information that was provided by producers is what helped to identify, find, and help the issue. Failure to provided the information skews the data, the results, and the efforts made to head off any problems.

The irony of the situation is that many of us do not hesitate to fill out social media data mining surveys that promise to tell us nonsense like what breed of dog we would be. However, all the while, we refuse to fill out the census which is aimed at promoting and protecting our way of life. We must remember that information is power. Knowing the facts behind the agricultural movement is what gives producers a true voice that is strong and backed by data. Instead of viewing this as an intrusion, we should be looking at it as an opportunity. It does not matter if you are a vendor at a small farmers market of a commercial producer, being involved in agriculture is not an easy feat. However, it is something that we should be proud of. In the end, the only people we hurt by not completing this information, are those that have the same dream and vision as we do.

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