Information will help develop some helpful programs
SIKESTON -- It may be hard to see it now, but in the long run, farmers will benefit from filling out their Census of Agriculture forms.
Gene Danekas, director of the National Agricultural Statistics Services Missouri Field Office, said he doesn't know if farmers understand how important their contributions to the Census are.
"This is really the only source of county level rural information available anywhere," Danekas said.
The Census, which is a joint effort by NASS and Missouri Department of Agriculture, looks at land use and ownership, operator characteristics, production practices, income and expenditures and other topics across the country and in the state -- right down to county and ZIP code levels.
"That provides information to the local communities to develop programs that they feel are necessary to the local economy," Danekas said. "I know there are a lot of small communities writing grant proposals for rural health issues, rural ambulance service and water supplies and so on.
He continued: "Without this (Census) information and good, solid statistics to base their claims, it makes it much more difficult for them -- and it goes all the way to the state legislators. They use a lot of it (Census information) for their program development and to represent their growers not only in Jefferson City but on the national level."
In addition lending institutions use information from the Census to determine if it's feasible to make a loan to a farmer. Census results play a role in the Farm Bill, too.
"Every time a provision is proposed for the Farm Bill you can guarantee we get calls from congressmen asking, 'How many producers in my region would this affect, what types of producer' and so on," Danekas said.
Taken every five years, the Census of Agriculture, is a survey of America's farms, ranches and the people that operate them. These people are required by law to participate.
"Forms are sent to every person that we have an indication they may operate agricultural land, and they're also sent to people who are considered the land operator and not necessarily the owner," Danekas said. "We're looking for a response from the person who makes the day-to-day decisions on the land."
However, landowners who don't necessarily operate the land and receive a questionnaire are advised to say so and send back their forms, Danekas said.
The Census is also geared to farmers, especially those with $1,000 worth of agriculture production during the calendar year of 2007, Danekas said. It's possible someone could receive multiple forms, and they need to send back all forms, he said.
"There wouldn't be any count of farms or farmers if they didn't do these reports," said a local enumerator with the NASS Missouri Field Office.
The questionnaire is about 30 pages but after answering questions that only pertain to them, it's much smaller, Danekas said. And confidentiality is guaranteed by law so an individual's information will not be given to an assessor, the Internal Revenue Service or anyone, he said.
Online form completion is becoming more popular, Danekas said.
"It is a timesaver and money saver for the government. It saves on postage, and we don't have to key the results into the machine because it's already there," Danekas said.
About 147,000 Census of Agriculture forms were mailed Dec. 28. across the state. Nationwide 3 million of these forms were mailed.
The statewide response rate was about 84 percent in 2002, which is the last year the Census was conducted. Historically, NASS receives responses from Southeast Missouri later than the rest of the state, Danekas said.
"Sometimes Southeast Missouri is slower, mainly because lot of the operations are larger operation, and it takes longer to complete and put the information together," Danekas said.
Results for the 2007 Census of Agriculture will be available Feb. 1, 2009.
"It's a yearlong effort," Danekas said. "We have to compile everything and verify the data is accurate."
While the Census results are posted online, they're also made available through hard copy, which Danekas compared its size to that of the St. Louis phone book.
"Some (farmers) think we try to be nosy, but it's to get the real picture from the people who do it and get the real information," the NASS enumerator said. "... It's about the only chance to tell their side of the story."
Feb. 4 is the due date to return Census forms. Anyone who didn't receive a form and thinks they should have can call 1-888-424-7828.
To complete a form online, visit www.agCensus.nass.usda.gov.