MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Just days remain for Mississippi farmers to be counted in the 2007 Census of Agriculture, a tally that actually impacts the agriculture industry in the state.
The ag census attempts to gather information from all farmers in the country. The U.S. Department of Agriculture conducts the survey every five years through the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Farmers have until June 18 to be counted in this census.
According to USDA, the Census of Agriculture is “the only source of consistent and comprehensive agricultural data for every state and county in the nation.” City planners, policy makers and industry representatives use the census information as they make decisions.
Gregg Ibendahl, an agricultural economist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said the ag census gives farmers a collective voice.
“It's almost like a chance to vote and let people know about farming,” Ibendahl said. “The census also shows everyone the importance of agriculture.”
He said one of the benefits of this census is that it provides numbers for the entire country broken down to the county level.
“This data can be used to test new programs or ideas, and to calculate the impact something will have on the ag community,” Ibendahl said.
The last ag census was conducted in 2002. Charles Butler, USDA/NASS agricultural statistician in Jackson, said this census revealed there are 42,186 farms in Mississippi employing 34,109 hired workers. Of those owning or operating a farm, 26 percent are women and 13 percent are minorities.
“We define farmer to mean anyone who earns more than $1,000 from their farm or has the potential to earn more than $1,000 in ag sales each year,” Butler said. “This includes all types of livestock farmers and those who grow row crops, produce and greenhouse plants.”
Butler said the census is a 24-page document that takes an average of 30-45 minutes to complete. Copies have been mailed out three times, and the form can be completed online at http://www.agcensus.usda.gov. Mississippi's participation numbers have been low, so USDA representatives also are calling individual farmers and collecting census data from them over the telephone.
“The law requires farmers to complete this survey,” Butler said. Information collected includes how much land is owned, rented from someone and rented to someone; what the land is being used for; the value of ag sales from that land; what crops are grown or livestock raised; how many people live on the farm; and how many households share in the net farm income.
Butler said participating in this census has true benefits to Mississippi farmers.
“Each farm bill that Congress writes starts with an examination of the census numbers,” Butler said. “Congress needs data to determine which direction agriculture is going, and the census provides that information.
“Last year when we had the drought, Congress gave money to states to assist livestock producers. How that money was distributed was based in part on the census numbers,” he said.
Those filling out the form are expected to give accurate information, but no documentation is required. Butler encouraged all farmers in Mississippi who have not yet completed the census to do so immediately to meet the June 18 deadline.