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Karl Guenther Column: Census of Agriculture report critical to the future

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Some in the Michigan Agriculture community are concerned budget cuts will negatively impact agriculture in Michigan.
Some in the Michigan Agriculture community are concerned budget cuts will negatively impact agriculture in Michigan.

Over the years I’ve heard about farmers and ranchers who won’t respond to the Census of Agriculture.  There are a handful of supposed reasons for that, mostly because “the government can’t keep a secret”, and, “I don’t tell anybody about my business . . . . “and so on.  I’ve not heard any such stories recently, but I haven’t been listening - - at least, not for that stuff.  The Census of Agriculture is so critically important in so many ways, and there are so many benefits in fact, and potentially, to come to Agriculture by way of that kind of information.  Of course, most folks in Agriculture to any degree know of the Census, and, if they think about it, will recall having been advised that it’s not just “a good idea”, it’s the law!

The justification for seeking the kind of information reported in the Census every five years, 2012 is the most recent “fifth year” - - - is laid out for us this month by Farm Bureau’s Bob Boehm, together with Jay Johnson, director of the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service at the Michigan Field Office.  For example, Jay says, “Without the information collected, we wouldn’t know that 3.3 million farmers in theUnited States--only 1 percent of our total population--provide food, fuel and fiber to the other 99 percent.”

We also know, to be sure, that American Agriculture exports a whole lot of food, fuel, and fiber - - some times Agriculture is the only part of our GDP that shows a positive balance of trade.

Census of Agriculture benefits may fall more to some states than to others, but Michigan is right near the top, it seems to me, of eligible Agriculture endeavors, if only because we produce a greater variety than almost any other state.  Only California, because citrus fruit is part of its production, is more diverse that Michigan.  Our long line of specialty crops sets us apart from almost all the others, and data from the Census helps in the allocation of grant funding for the Specialty Crop Block Grants.  Michigan received, Jay says, more than 1.3 million dollars from that program just this year in support of specialty crop initiatives, research and extension.  The Census forms should have arrived by now - - they were due in “late December” and the completed forms are due February 4th.

There’s a “carrot and stick” approach to this announcement. NASS is required to keep all individual information confidential - - that’s the carrot; here’s the stick - - Federal law requires all agricultural producers to participate in the census.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year - - and, especially, we wish you a happier year in 2013, than 2012 has been for a lot of Michigan farmers.

Karl Guenther is a retired farm broadcaster at WKZO and can be reached at khguenther@charter.net. He is a member of Michigan Farm Bureau and an emeritus member of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting.

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