Farmers and ranchers are notoriously private and skeptical people, especially when it involves the government. Seems like every farming family has a horror story about that one time Great-Great Grandpa’s neighbor worked with “the government” and lost the back 40. Even my own family has tales about eminent domain and “the government.” In an industry that constantly says “this is how we’ve always done it,” it can be hard to change perceptions, including a generations-long perception of the government.
When the government, more specifically the Department of Agriculture (USDA), asks agriculturists for detailed information about their farms every five years, it’s not met with an enthusiastic, motivated cheer. In fact, I’ve seen many of my Aggie peers proclaim the USDA’s Census of Agriculture is dangerous or something they should not be truthful about. This attitude only serves to hurt our industry; in fact, it harms the very people it’s supposed to help.
Since I broke off on my own (kinda) and lease ground from my parents, the USDA considers me a beginning farmer. My heritage pork operation enables me to finally get to be a ‘real’ rancher and have the privilege of completing the Agriculture Census! I worked very hard to get to this point in my career and did use an USDA program. I felt like it would be disingenuous of me to not talk about what I have learned and how I have benefited. Hopefully this will help clear some misconceptions and explain the many benefits the Census for you, my readers.
Over the past few years, our ranch has faced some spectacular natural disasters. From severe drought, to floods, and finally fires, Northern California has “seen some things, man.” These disasters did severe damage to many farms and ranches. Even though insurance has been purchased, it often does not always make things right completely. Sometimes the USDA can offer programs and services that help farmers and ranchers recover or prevent disasters. Without the data gathered by USDA, these programs may not exist at all.
Agriculture often feels under-represented in both government and culture. We often trot out the statistic that less than 2% of our population is directly involved with production agriculture. Having numbers like these, derived by the Ag Census, helps the public understand what a small segment we are and helps build trust, something we want our customers to feel.
Having statistics that we can depend on helps our industry preserve itself and plan for the future. Our elected officials and commodity groups can advocate for agriculture by using these numbers to craft better policy or build facilities that we need to thrive and grow. These numbers can help fund programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program which can help with conservation practices. Programs like this are why I am able to have my own operation now.
For ag marketers, having visible numbers for production, consumption and inventories help markets function competitively, helping farmers and ranchers hedge risk or expand markets. Having research driven data we can depend on is essential for agriculture and customers. Being informed about our worlds is the best way to understand it.
Growing up in agriculture I know firsthand the rumors spread about the Census. Farmers at the corner cafe and the Facebook groups are famous for their tall tales and skepticism. However, if you want to have your voice heard, if you want agriculture to matter, I implore you, please complete your Census truthfully and completely. We need to have information about land use and ownership, operator diversity, practices, and finances. This is information is not only imperative to change perceptions in a beneficial way about agriculture, it is necessary to keep us in business.
*Special thanks to Tricia Braid for the inspiration, information and help writing this blog. She’s good people, please go follow her.
And Natalie Stoppani Csf for the meme, she has a gift.