New Jersey farmers have the opportunity to make a positive impact on their communities by taking part in the 2012 Census of Agriculture.

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Conducted every five years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), the Census is a complete count of all U.S. farms, ranches and those who operate them. Forms have been mailed out throughout the state with a submission deadline of February 4, 2013.

The Census looks at land use and ownership, operator characteristics, production practices, income and expenditures and other topics. This information is used by all those who serve farmers and rural communities from federal, state and local governments to agribusinesses and trade associations. For example, legislators use the data when shaping farm policy and agribusinesses factor it into their planning efforts.

In 2007, U.S. farmers reported over two million farms, spanning across more than 922 million acres. This showed nearly a four percent increase in the number of U.S. farms from the previous Census in 2002. These new farms tended to have more diversified production, fewer acres, lower sales and younger operators who also worked off-farm. This telling information and thousands of statistics are only available every five years as a direct result of farmer responses to the Census.

The NASS New Jersey field office will collect the data for the 2012 calendar year and compile it, with a national release sometime in early 2014. In the 2007 Census, the number of farms in New Jersey had grown to more than 10,000 for the first time since the 1960's, and the value of products sold reached near $1.0 billion. The results will identify trends and give a detailed picture of agriculture in the state.

"The results of the Census are used by companies, universities, cooperatives, planners and lawmakers who serve New Jersey farmers and communities - including federal, state and local governments, agribusinesses, trade associations and many others," said John Gibbons, Deputy Director, USDA-NASS-NJ. "Farmers and ranchers also use Census data to help make informed decisions about the future of their own operations."

Taking part in the Census is increasingly important to New Jersey producers and communities because it provides a snapshot of the agriculture industry in every county of the state. This local information can affect policy decisions as well as influence community growth and development.

"The Census provides producers an opportunity to help shape farm programs, boost rural services and grow your farm future," added Gibbons. "Many companies review Census data when determining where to establish or expand their businesses, and even when looking for where they can go for supplies of locally-produced food and agricultural products - all examples that emphasize the importance of responding and supplying accurate Census information."

Federal law requires all agricultural producers to participate in the Census and requires NASS to keep all individual information confidential.

More information is available online.