USDA Census of Agriculture. What this means for California

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It’s time for Central Valley farmers to complete the federal government’s Census of Agriculture — a count that could reveal important information about the impact of California’s drought on the industry.

This was announced by the US Department of Agriculture on Tuesday 2022 Census, count of agricultural operations in the country, which is carried out every five years by the National Service of Agricultural Statistics.

“It’s a chance for farmers to show the importance of what they’re doing,” said Gary Kea, director of the Pacific region and statistician for the state of California for the USDA, in an interview with The Bee/Fresnoland.

According to a press release from the USDA, “The Census of Agriculture is the only complete and objective data on agriculture for each state, county, and territory.”

The census collects detailed information on land use and ownership, characteristics of producers, production methods, income, expenditure, labor and other topics.

The census is especially important for California agriculture because of the state’s ongoing drought. California’s current 2020-2022 drought is the driest three-year stretch on record and took losses on California Farmers.

“This will probably be the best chance to capture the number of lands by county,” Keough said.

He also said that changes in cropland use — especially changes in the acreage of land, fruit and nuts — are of “special interest here in California.”

“Given our water and temperature situation last year,” he said, “(this information) will be closely monitored, especially at the county level.”

For the first time since the 1840 census, the USDA will also collect information on industrial hemp production.

The census also has questions on precision agriculture practices, Keough said, such as operations that involve the use of GPS or the use of drones to scout and handle livestock.

There are also new questions related to sheep, as well as updates to Internet access questions.

Who should complete the census?

The USDA encourages farm operations — both urban and rural — to complete the agricultural census.

“I strongly urge all farmers, no matter how large or small they operate, to complete and return their agricultural census immediately,” USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said in a news release.

Operations that produce and sell (or would normally sell) $1,000 or more in 2022 agricultural products must complete the census.

“We’re encouraging more producers to report online if they have access to the Internet, it’s usually a little bit faster,” Keo said.

Data will be collected through Feb. 6, 2023. Keough said a preliminary release of the census data will occur in the spring of 2024.

The USDA has mailed unique survey codes to all known agricultural producers across the country. These survey codes will be used to complete the 2022 Census of Agriculture agcounts.usda.gov.

Customer support is available weekdays from 6am to 3pm Pacific Time for those who need support by filling out a form at 888-424-7828.

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Melissa Montalvo covers jobs and the economy in California’s Central Valley for The Fresno Bee/Fresnoland as an American Corps Member Report. She is also a regular contributor to La Abeja, The Bee’s free weekly newsletter on Latino issues. She graduated from the University of Southern California with a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations, minors in Commercial Law and French, and Honors as a Renaissance Scholar and Global Scholar.

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