If you’re a Maine farmer, you should take part in the agricultural census
The deadline for completing and filing the 2022 U.S. Department of Agriculture census is next month, and time is running out for Mainers with small farms and homesteads to submit their forms.
Every five years with the National Farm Census, Maine’s small farms and homesteaders can play an important role in shaping policies and programs. The census puts them on an equal footing with large commercial operations and the agribusiness and ensures that their needs are not overwhelmed by these larger interests.
According to Angie Considine, survey statistician at the Northeast Branch of the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, it’s easy for these smallholders and homesteaders to downplay their own involvement. But nothing could be further from the truth.
“I hear people say, ‘Why would I come forward when I only have a few goats?'” Considine said. “Our data is only as good as the number of people speaking up, and that’s the chance for small farmers to be heard.”
Without the data provided by Maine’s more than 6,500 farms and homesteads, state and federal policies could be skewed in favor of larger agricultural or agribusiness interests when it comes to government funding, land use regulations, and food safety regulations.
For anyone who sells their crops or livestock, either directly from their farm or homestead or at a farmer’s market, the census can be a valuable marketing tool in deciding what is selling well in their area. It contains data on specific crops in a state and county, including the acreage planted and harvested and their value.
Every five years since 1997, the USDA has mailed the census to all farms, homesteads, or owners of any property that had or had annual sales greater than $1,000. It collects data on crops, livestock, demographics, and trends.
“The census is the only source of consistent, comprehensive, and impartial agricultural data for every state and county in the nation,” Considine said. “It lets us see what’s changing in farming and it really influences how decisions are made.”
Considine said the census can look a bit intimidating when it arrives.
“A lot of people see this 25-page form and freak out,” she said. “But if you’re a small farm or homesteader with one or two goods, you don’t even have to fill out a lot of things and it doesn’t take that long.”
It’s especially important for small farmers to complete and submit the form, Considine said, because the information they provide will help create policies and programs that help more small farmers stay in business.
“If you look back over the years, it’s the small farms that are going away,” she said. “Our small farms are so important.”
According to the 2017 census, Maine has lost 500 farms in the past five years.
Considine cannot predict the updated numbers. She said the data submitted by these small farms and homesteaders is critical to helping policymakers develop programs that can help encourage smaller farms.
Completed census reports should be mailed in or completed online by February 6. Anyone who has lost their census form or wants to fill it out online can do so, but will need the survey code that was sent with the forms. You can get your code by calling the USDA at 888-424-7828.
“I’d love to see the response rate skyrocket,” Considine said. “It can be difficult when people say they don’t matter – but everything matters.”