RICHMOND—Virginia farmers have a special project awaiting them over the holidays. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service has begun mailing the 2017 Census of Agriculture form to nearly 45,000 Virginia producers. “The census is conducted every five years, and we’re asking all farmers to participate,” said Herman Ellison, Virginia state statistician for NASS. “It’s very important to our industry; it’s important to ag businesses; and it’s also important to researchers at our universities who use the data.” According to USDA regulations, any person who earns $1,000 or more a year from an agricultural operation is considered a farmer and must reply to the census. Census forms are due by Feb. 5, 2018. Much of the information collected by the census is financial, Ellison said, such as crop acreage and yields, prices received, rental rates for land and livestock numbers. Other questions are more demographic in nature, such as the sex and race of the principal farm operator and whether the farm is a full-time or part-time operation. All information gathered is strictly confidential. The federal government has collected data on U.S. agriculture since 1840. Originally, only a few categories of farm information was collected, such as cattle herd numbers and corn acreage. But each census offers a chance to improve data collection and document emerging trends in the industry, Ellison explained. New 2017 census questions include military veteran status as well as expanded questions about food marketing practices, according to a NASS news release. Once the census results are compiled and released in February 2019 “they could help the Department of Agriculture make decisions for the industry,” Ellison said. “If communities need information, for example, whether a farmers’ market could be successful, this information could help with that.” Tony Banks, a commodity marketing specialist for the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, added that “the Census of Agriculture gives a snapshot for community leaders to see the state of agriculture in their county and their state. Nationally, it’s an opportunity to monitor trends in the industry, to see if there any shifts in production. Or even if some production is moving offshore.” Farmers also benefit from the census information, Banks added. “For instance, we may have beef producers who want to see what the livestock inventory is in their area, to see if there’s enough cattle nearby to support a local processing facility.” Producers can complete a paper document or do it electronically. For more information, visit agcensus.usda.gov. Media: Contact Ellison at 800-772-0670, Banks at 804-290-1114, or Norm Hyde, VFBF communications, at 804-290-1146.