The USDA Census of Agriculture (hereafter, “Census of Ag”) results are expected to be released in early 2024 and Decision Innovation Solutions is waiting to put them to work, by incorporating them into the latest, most up to date analyses of the contribution of the agricultural sectors, as DIS has done over the past decade and a half.
Many people do not realize that the Census of Ag is one of the ‘gold standards’ other countries look to, to emulate. Some countries only recently have begun building up an agricultural statistical service like the USDA NASS, and the USDA Census provides part of the foundation for the resulting statistical reports.
What makes the Census of Ag so unique is that it provides a way to measure the entire farming system down to the county level, with numbers that have highly specific definitions. As a result, an economist can compare numbers for acreage and production, or for expenditures on fertilizer, across all counties in the U.S. and also compare those numbers to the those resulting from USDA surveys on farm income (the USDA ARMS survey, for example).
When combined with other sources of agricultural and economic data, this county-by-county, nationwide farming databank becomes very powerful as part of other analytical tools, such as the IMPLAN program, to give an accurate measure of the contribution of agriculture to the economy of every county and every Congressional district in the United States.
How it works: Every five years, a new Census of Ag is distributed to every farming business in the United States, that “produce and sell, $1,000 or more of agricultural products during the census year” and can be filled out online. It takes more than a year for the results of the Census of Ag to be compiled by USDA and for reports to be generated.
What have been the biggest changes to the Census of Ag over the past 10 years? First and foremost, the biggest change was the ability to cite up to four major decision-makers for a farm. This opened the door for women, especially those married or otherwise partnered, to be included in the Census of Agriculture as a farmer because of their decision-making role. This change also captured the reality that many of today’s modern farms have several family members involved as decision makers. Capturing this impact of family participation also helped paint a more detailed picture of the age of farm decision-makers.
Another significant change in the recent Census was the use of survey collection via the Internet. For the current Census (2022) about 40% of all Census Surveys are being entered over the internet in Illinois and this is about average for the U.S..
This is bringing more attention to the rural areas of the U.S. that are underserved for internet access, which is also queried within the 2022 Census of Ag.
Renewable energy is having a huge effect on many parts of U.S. agriculture, particularly solar farms in the Midwest in terms of farmland use. In the Census of Ag, there is an opportunity for farmers to indicate if wind, solar, methane digesters, or geothermal energy sources are being generated on their farms.
One of the more interesting outcomes of the Census is its ability to paint a picture of the distributional mix of farming in a county. Farms can be sorted according to size and type of crops. Additionally, demographic data points such as age, veteran status, new and beginning farmer status can be sorted.
Insight into local food distribution will be drawn from the 2022 Census of Ag, with indications marketing direct to consumers and schools. Organic production will be in the final output of the Census and a follow-up survey specific to organic production will follow.
Expectations by USDA for release of the Census of Ag statistics are for publication ‘early in 2024’. Until then, much insight can be drawn from other county-level USDA-NASS surveys, particularly the County Production reports that provide yield, total acreage, and total county production levels for that state’s primary crops. Combining those production numbers with known Season Average Price for the commodities, can provide great insight into county farm income numbers for crops.
An example of the value of these DIS “Contribution of Agriculture” studies comes from Illinois, where the Illinois Farm Bureau has continued to provide value to stakeholders, whether they be Chicago-based legislators or rural agribusinesses, via targeted, synthesized reports for each county and legislative district, derived from their DIS study.
DIS is poised to take full advantage of the treasure trove of data that the 2022 USDA Census of Agriculture will provide. With this new data, DIS can update any state, county, or legislative district’s “contribution of agriculture to the economy” study to provide a relevant and influential set of statistics. Please contact DIS at to hear more about how your state, county, or legislative district can take advantage of these reports. [Mike Doherty at: Mike@decision-innovation.com or call 515.639.2902]