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USDA says it's not too late to return (confusing?) census survey

Not too late for ag census. Deadline for Census of Agriculture extended. Farmers complain of confusing questions.

There has been a lot of concern in recent years about agricultural producers having their voice heard by federal regulators. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack says that was the catalyst behind the 2012 Census of Agriculture.

Agricultural producers are required to complete the census, which was mailed out late last year. But USDA officials say while the response has been good so far, a number of farmers and ranchers have not yet responded to the census call.

Vilsack says the census is only as good as the input provided by producers, and in spite of the 1.4 million census forms returned to date, he believes given an extended deadline, more farmers and ranchers will send back the survey forms to provide an even greater level of input. For those who missed the deadline, USDA reminds producers that their farm is important and needs to be counted.

“Information from the Census of Agriculture helps USDA monitor trends and better understand the needs in agriculture,” said Vilsack. “Providing industry stakeholders, community leaders, lawmakers and individual farm operators with the most comprehensive and accurate U.S. agricultural reports, we all help ensure the tools are available to make informed, sound decisions to protect the future of American agriculture.”

As such, Vilsack has announced an extension of the census deadline. The deadline for submitting census forms was February 4, and many farmers and ranchers have responded. However, those who did not respond by the original due date will receive another copy of the form in the mail to give them another opportunity.

“Accurate and comprehensive information from all farmers and ranchers is important so that the census can provide a true picture of U.S. agriculture today and help everyone plan appropriately for future,” said Vilsack. “This level of information is only gathered and released once every five years, so we need the participation of every producer to ensure the agricultural industry and rural America receive the representation that will provide them with the most benefit and value.”

Conducted every five years by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), the census provides detailed data covering nearly every facet of U.S. agriculture. It looks at land use and ownership, production practices, expenditures and other factors that affect the way farmers and ranchers do business.

In spite of the extended deadline, critics of the ag census suggest the questions posed on the form may be the reason some producers have not yet responded. Surfing across related blogs and web sites on the Internet, for example, many producers are expressing confusion over some of the questions.

One post from a producer at a grape production operation expressed concern over Section 32, titled “Practices.” The producer said the question refers to “practicing alley cropping or silvopasture,” a term he was not familiar with and had to research to understand the question. He complained the census, while overall was simple, was also weighed down by a series of questions that required what he termed “too much time to understand.”

Other census responders posted they had less trouble understanding or completing the census forms. But others are suggesting the extended deadline indicates that more than one producer had trouble with the census and many require more time to digest the information before responding.

According to Internet posts, more troublesome than the census is the Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS). Only 33,000 producers nationwide were selected to complete this survey, but many of those selected are complaining about the difficulty of the task.

The ARMS survey asks producers to provide data on their operating expenditures, production costs and household characteristics to understand the current financial state of agriculture. Those selected to participate in the ARMS survey do not have to complete the agriculture census form, also prepared by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).

According to one post about the ARMS survey, a producer complained about the first 18 pages, two of which were “left intentionally blank for processing purposes” and consisted of 30 questions, of which “most are confusing.”

Regardless the reason for not sending the Ag Census back to USDA yet, farmers and ranchers may find it easier to complete and return the census by either mail or online by visiting a secure website to speed the process. If you prefer the latter method, log on to

Easy or not, Federal law requires all agricultural producers to participate in the Census of Agriculture and requires NASS to keep all individual information confidential. For more information about the census, including helpful tips on completing your census form, visit or call 1-888-4AG-STAT (1-888-424-7828). The Census of Agriculture is your voice, your future, your responsibility.

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