How Many Small Farms? Ag Census Will Tell

The USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service will conduct the next Census of Agriculture in the latter half of 2012. Meanwhile, it is helping Serbia and Armenia prepare for their own censuses.

There were 2.2 million U.S. farms counted in the 2007 Census of Agriculture, which was 4 percent more than the 2002 census had counted. Most of the growth was in small farms where no single commodity accounted for more than 50 percent of the total value of production, according to Larry Sivers, National Agriculture Statistics Service International Programs Office Director, in his Jan. 3 post on the USDA blog. He wrote about the upcoming 2012 census that NASS will conduct and its work in December with the Republic of Serbia and the Republic of Armenia to help them prepare for their own censuses of agriculture.

U.S. farm numbers generally have declined since World War II, according to NASS, but the smallest category -- farms with sales of less than $1,000 – increased by 118,000 from 2002 to 2007, while the number with sales above $500,000 increased by 46,000. The smallest farms, those with 10 or fewer workers, are exempt from OSHA enforcement.

Serbia will conduct its first census of agriculture in 50 years starting in October 2012, Sivers wrote, adding that Bob Hale from NASS's International Programs Office and Krissy Young from NASS's Public Affairs Section attended the Third Annual Extension Conference in Zlatibor, Serbia and discussed communications for the Serbian 2012 census. The Armenian government hosted Mike Steiner from the NASS International Programs Office and Chris Messer, chief of NASS's Program Administration Branch, for a seminar as they prepare to collect data from producers through the first agricultural census in that country in more than 90 years, Sivers wrote.

"International projects like these, supported by reimbursable funding, go beyond just helping the host country. They are learning experiences for NASS as well," he concluded. "As staff work with other statistical organizations they are exposed to new and different methodologies that broaden their experience. They can then apply these experiences to challenges at home to improve service to U.S. agriculture. Very importantly, projects like these help U.S agriculture by contributing to more accurate information on world agricultural supply and demand to make better marketing decisions for U.S. products."

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