As California farmers sit down with family and friends this Thanksgiving, they might consider how far U.S. agriculture has come since the first Thanksgiving in 1621.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), U.S. farmers will raise 254 million turkeys, and harvest 768 million pounds of cranberries and 47 billion pounds of potatoes this year. The most recent NASS data reports that producers also grew 1.1 billion pounds of pumpkins and 1.9 billion pounds of green beans to provide many sides dishes this Thanksgiving. Compare that with the menu that history tells us the Thanksgiving consisted of in 1621: a handful of wild turkeys and geese, along with a few baskets of assorted beans, corn and pumpkins grown by pilgrims and Native Americans.
“Modernization of agriculture, along with the value farmers and ranchers provide to California and U.S. economies, is even more in focus this year because of the upcoming 2012 Census of Agriculture,” said Vic Tolomeo, California NASS Field Office director. “Conducted every five years by NASS, the Census is a complete count of all U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them.”
Farmers in California are known for producing a great variety of agricultural products – and people, communities, businesses, government agencies and others value those contributions.
The Census looks at land use and ownership, operator characteristics, production practices, income and expenditures and other topics. All those who serve farmers and rural communities -- from federal, state and local governments to agribusinesses and trade associations, use information from the Census. Legislators also use the data when shaping farm policy and agribusinesses factor it into their planning efforts.
Whether he or she raises livestock, fruits, nuts, vegetables, flowers, nursery stock, carrots, pumpkins or turkeys, every U.S. farmer is encouraged to participate in the Census.
“The Census remains the only source of uniform, comprehensive agricultural data for every county in the nation,” said Tolomeo “It’s a critical tool that gives farmers a voice to influence decisions that will shape the future of their community, industry and operation.”
NASS will mail out Census forms to California farmers in late December to collect data for the 2012 calendar year. Completed forms are due by Feb. 4, 2013. Farmers can fill out the Census online at www.agcensus.usda.gov  or fill out the form and mail it back. Respondents are guaranteed by law that their information will be kept confidential.
Federal law requires every farmer and rancher, regardless of the size or type of operation, to respond to the Census. For Census purposes, a farm is any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the Census year.
The Census of Agriculture is your voice, your future, your responsibility. For more information, visit www.agcensus.usda.gov .