This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.
This is National Agriculture Week, an annual event that gives us a chance to honor the 3 million plus farmers and ranchers across the United States who work hard each day so that we have healthy and nutritious food on our plates. From the last Census of Agriculture in 2007, we learned that the number of farmers is actually growing. But how do we know that USDA is keeping pace with their needs?
The previous Censuses of Agriculture told us that the average age of farmers is increasing. That’s because agriculture can be a challenging business to get started in, especially for a young farmer. That’s why USDA offers a plethora of financial and technical assistance programs to new farmers. And every five years when millions of farmers respond to the Census of Agriculture, the department can assess the impact of its programs.
But the Census data doesn’t simply evaluate the current state of agriculture in the United States. The Census is one of the most important vehicles for farmers to have their voices heard and help determine the next steps for many of USDA’s programs, helping not only those who already farm, but also those who are new to the agricultural sector.
We recently heard from one such new farmer in Maryland. Dena is starting a grazing and organic vegetable and fruit farm with the help of programs that rely on Census data. As she described it, “With the Census showing more and more small farms coming into production, I’m hopeful that funding for programs that benefit smaller farms will not only be preserved, but enhanced.”
“I looked at the number of producers in my state engaged in practices similar to mine – both in terms of the kinds of crops and livestock, as well as the conservation practices we are going to employ – and I felt encouraged. There are enough folks on the same path as our farm to ensure we will be able to find supplies, support, and the critical mass necessary to collectively garner a stake in the regional marketplace.”
Dena is just one of the many farmers around the country who feel the impact that the Census of Agriculture is making on their industry. That’s why during National Agriculture Week, NASS is launching a “Share My Story” section on the Census website. I encourage farmers across America to tell us how the Census has impacted you so that we can share them online with others. Who knows, you just might inspire another beginning farmer like Dena or spark a new idea to help your fellow farmers.