It Comes Around Every Five Years

The Agricultural Statistics Service in Tennessee is a very important source in our state for agricultural information that keeps all of us informed on what’s going to really happen down on Tennessee farms. They keep us aware of trends, current growing conditions, acres planted and just where we are going. In fact, they could even cure the problem of counting cats if given the challenge.

Every five years the United States Department of Agriculture conducts its Census of Agriculture. In 2007 the last census was taken and once again it is time to do some counting out on the farms across America and right here in our own state. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) in a recent report said that the Census provides detailed data covering nearly every facet of U.S. agriculture. It will look at land use and ownership, production practices, expenditures and other factors that affect the way farmers do business and succeed in the 21st Century.

To get a count that will be right, we need everyone to fill out their forms when they get them in the mail and mail them back as soon as possible. However, getting everyone involved is not as easy as it may sound. A story is told of just such a problem a few years ago, when door-to-door Census takers took the Census and those being interviewed were not always the friendly type.

The story goes that it had been a very satisfying day for the old man as he settled down on his porch to watch the afternoon sun start to set in the west. As he made himself comfortable, he noticed a young man walking up his sidewalk with a yellow pad and a number two lead pencil in his hand. The old man was not really interested in talking to anyone this late in the day, especially not to a “kid” trying to sell his way through college or something.

“I hope you are not selling something, young feller,” he stated in somewhat of a short-toned reply. “I don’t have any money for magazines, brushes or vacuum cleaners.”

Being taken back by the old man’s grumpy concerns, the young man stopped in his tracks and said, “I’m not selling anything, sir.”

“Well, what are you doing here?” the old man asked.

Hoping to get an even chance to just talk to the old man, the young man replied, “I’m a volunteer with the USDA. I’m the farm Census taker.”

“A what?” the man asked. The words from the government immediately sent up red flags for the old man and the word census even confused him that much more.

“I’m a Census taker. The government is trying to find out how many farms are in the United States,” the young worker said.

Getting up out of his chair and opening the door to his white frame house, the old man answered and said, “Well, you’re wasting your time around here with me.”

As he started through the door, he stopped and looked back at the young bewildered Census taker and said, “Because, I have no idea how many there are or even suppose to be.”

Just as hard as it was for that young man to get to talk to that old man, it is sometimes just as hard to get all the forms in from our modern day reporters. The information provided to the Ag Statistics Service could mean the difference in a farm program happening or not.

“The 2012 Census of Agriculture provides farmers with a powerful voice. The information gathered through the Census influences policy decisions that can have a tremendous impact on farmers and their communities for years to come,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “I strongly encourage all farmers, no matter how large or small their operation, to promptly complete and return their Census, so they can voice to the nation the value and importance of agriculture.”

NASS is now in the process of mailing out the Census forms, and every farmer should have theirs by early January, to collect data for the 2012 calendar year. Completed forms are due by February 4, 2013. During the cold and snowy weeks ahead, use the time spent by the fire to complete your Census. Producers can return their forms by mail or they have the convenient option of filling out the Census online via a secure Web site at

With the farming population now less than two percent of our country’s total population, it is very important that we get an all out effort on the 2012 Ag Census. When you are the needle in the haystack, it’s important to make your “point” known.



– Pettus L. Read is editor of the Tennessee Farm Bureau News and Director of Communications for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at