LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Mid-South farmers will receive a package in the mail from their states' Agricultural Statistics Services just before Christmas. It's not a Christmas present, says Ben Klugh, state statistician and head of the USDA's agency in Arkansas.
It's a survey that's essential to updating information the government needs for making farm policy. It's part of the national Census of Agriculture that the USDA publishes every five years.
The 2002 Census of Agriculture will be the most comprehensive portrait of agriculture at the county, state and national levels. It'll compare how farms and ranches stand today with where they were five years ago.
The survey is vital for policymakers in government. Others who depend on the information include farm cooperatives, commodity and trade associations and agribusinesses that use it to develop market strategies, look for trends and determine locations of facilities which will serve farmers.
In Arkansas, it provides information for making county disaster determinations and for administering such programs as crop insurance.
It's also used for making rural development plans involving water projects, land use management, rural health and beginning farmer programs.
The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture uses the information to analyze farm practices, farm programs, and new technology and to determine what agricultural research is needed.
The survey seeks key information, such as acreage and land use, crop and livestock production and costs, product sales and farmer characteristics.
"Input is critical, so it's important to return completed forms by Feb. 3," said Klugh. He said data provided by farmers and ranches are held strictly confidential by law.
Statistical results are published only in geographical summaries to prevent identification of individual farms.
There's another good reason for filling out the form and sending it back. It's required by federal law. If you receive a form, you must send it back. If you received the survey in error, write on the form that you don't farm.
Klugh said some persons may be surprised when they receive the survey, because they hadn't thought of themselves as farmers. A farm, for census purposes, is any place that produces agricultural products for sale or products that could be sold.
While the number of commercial farmers has declined in recent years, the number of hobby farmers has increased. If you have a few recreational horses and a small hay meadow, you're considered a farmer.
He said the survey form is long, 24 pages, because it covers many types of agricultural products, but the questions pertaining to the particular crop a farmer is raising amount to a total of only four or five pages. The survey can usually be filled out in 30 minutes or less. A free, self-addressed envelope is supplied.
"By responding completely and accurately, farmers and ranchers can make the 2002 Census of Agriculture an effective tool to help chart the future of their industry," Klugh said. He said it will take the USDA more than a year to compile the results and publish it. The census will be released in February 2004.
To find out more about the survey, visit the agricultural statistics service's Website at www.nass.usda.gov/ar/ and click on Census of Agriculture in the left column.
To find statistics for your county, state and nation, go to www.usda.gov/nass/.
If you have questions about the census or need help completing the form, call toll-free 888–424–7828.
Lamar James is an Extension communications specialist with the University of Arkansas.