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Fill out Ag Census when it arrives

corn pouring from auger into grain cart
BE HEARD: USDA officials like Greg Matli urge you to fill out census forms supplying information about your agricultural production because it’s the right thing to do, not just because it’s required by law.
Filling out the 2017 Census of Agriculture form is the right thing to do to help create an accurate picture of agriculture.

Leaders in Roman times, especially around the time of Jesus’ birth, as documented in the Bible, often had ulterior motives when they required a census of people. USDA officials insist there are no negative ulterior motives involved in asking farmers to complete the 2017 Census of Agriculture.

Greg Matli, director of the National Agricultural Statistics Service field office in Indiana, says filling out the census helps shape ag policy over the next five years. You’re required to fill out the census by federal law, but Matli insists there are many good reasons for doing so besides just that it is required.

“We know that the industry is always changing,” he says. “The census tells us which farms are going in and out of production, the sizes of farms, income and expenditures, production practices, what is being produced, and who owns and operates the farms — corporations, families or individuals.”

If everyone completes the census and supplies the required information, there are significant benefits to Indiana farmers, Matli says.

“This is your opportunity to be counted and to tell your story,” he says. “Our goal is to provide community leaders, lawmakers, agricultural organizations, ag educators and individual farm operators with the most comprehensive and accurate data to make informed decisions and protect the future of American agriculture.”

USDA uses the information to make decisions about the farm safety net and other government programs, he adds. In addition, data is used by community leaders, agribusinesses, lawmakers, researchers, local governments and educational institutions.

Fill it out
We’ve heard some of you are wary about filling out the form. You don’t want the government to have your data. The reality is that in today’s high-tech, social media world, keeping anything secret for very long would be difficult, even if you tried. It makes more sense to cooperate in the first place.

And no, Matli didn’t spell out what would happen if you don’t complete the form. He didn’t talk about penalties or if someone will follow up if forms aren’t returned. Frankly, it’s a moot point. Perhaps you will slip by if you don’t fill out the form, perhaps not. The fact is that the information is required and is useful when everyone’s information is assembled to paint a picture of agriculture today.

We urge you to fill out the census form honestly and completely, and help build an accurate picture of agriculture in your area. Decisions sometimes truly do hinge on the facts and figures policymakers glean from such things as the census reports.

If you are high-tech yourself and want to fill out the form online, that is an option, Matli says. In fact, the new online form has been streamlined to automatically do the math for you and skip questions that don’t relate to your operation, he notes.

The deadline for completing the survey is Feb. 5. Results will be released in February 2019. For more information about the ag census, visit agcensus.usda.gov, or call 888-424-7828.  

Comments? Email tom.bechman@farmprogress.com.

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