How many beginning farmers are there?
This is probably the single most common question I get. Well, at 12:00 PM EST on February 20, 2014, I finally get to tell you because the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) will release the preliminary results from the 2012 Census of Agriculture. This preliminary report will contain the number of farms, land in farms, and select economic information for every state along with demographic information such as number of farmers by age group and the number of years they have been farming. NASS plans to release the complete 2012 Census of Agriculture report later in the spring of 2014. This report will have more detailed commodity, expenditure, and county level information. You can see the type of information that will be available by viewing the results of the 2007 Census of Agriculture at http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/index.php.
The Census of Agriculture is done every five years. NASS began collecting data from farmers across the country in late December 2012 when we mailed report forms to all known farmers and potential farmers in the United States. Using a combination of reminder cards, second mailings, phone and personal follow-ups, we continued to collect information into the late summer of 2013 when we reached our goal of receiving completed reports from over 80 percent of our original mailing list.
But what if you didn’t receive a 2012 Census of Agriculture report form? Won’t that skew the results? NASS knows that the original mailing list did not contain all farmers in the U.S. Small and beginning farmers are the hardest for us to identify so we also use a method that allows us to estimate for the number of farms not on the original list. The land area of the U.S. is known and well mapped. In early 2012 we randomly select units of land in each State. Then in early June, 2012 we identified all the farm operators within these units. We then matched the names of farm operators from these land units against the names in our census mailing list. Those not on this mailing list also received a 2012 Census of Agriculture report form. Since we know the probability of selection for each of the land units, we can use the information from these farms that were not on the census mailing list to account for all other farms that were also not on the census mailing list. This allows the results of the 2012 Census of Agriculture to account for all farms in 2012.
If you were farming in 2012 and didn’t receive a 2012 Census of Agriculture report form, or just started, please provide NASS your contact information at http://www.nass.usda.gov/Online_Response/Be_Counted/. All information provided to NASS is confidential by law (Title 7, U.S Code).
If you have any questions concerning the 2012 Census of Agriculture or need agricultural statistics, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m looking forward to providing more information in future blogs.