Merry Christmas! Sometime in December, farmers and growers across the country will receive a big, thick letter from the government asking them to stand up and be counted.

Producers either can to the traditional route and fill in the paper forms, returning them in a postage-paid envelope; or, they can go on line and do the census electronically.

Either way, Ag Statistician Mark Schleusener assures, “All information is confidential.”

He said that data from many, many farms is aggregated for the Census. “Never will we reveal information on an individual or on an individual farm,” he said. In fact, the Ag Census is one of the few government documents that is exempted from the Freedom of Information Act. No reporter or nosy neighbor can sue to get data on an individual operation. It is forbidden to reveal a particular farmer’s name, the number of acres, number of head of cattle or hogs produced, or any other information that would reveal a farm’s information.

The Census of Agriculture is done every five years. This year, 2017, is a baseline or reference year for the census. This is a sort of master census that supplements the many quarterly counts done on things like hogs and pigs or the annual January report on beef, dairy, steers and calves.

Census forms will start to be mailed out in December and the mailings will continue into January 2018.

Schleusener said there is value in knowing who is producing what and where it is raised. Sometimes, due to weather or acreage planted, one area of the country might be short of a commodity. Another area might be long.

Knowing what to expect allows all sorts of agribusinesses from seed producers to truckers and railroads to grain elevators and retail grocers to plan for production and marketing.