Westlands Water District covers 600,000 acres and is one of the largest water districts in the country. Thousands of acres of farmland are being fallowed throughout the district. Credit: Westlands Water District

The time has come for Central Valley farmers to complete the federal government’s Census of Agriculture — a count that could reveal important insights into the impact of California’s drought on the industry.

On Tuesday, the United States Department of Agriculture announced the launch the 2022 ag census, a count of the nation’s farm operations that takes place every five years by the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

“This is a chance for farmers to show the importance of what they do,” Gary Keough, pacific region director and California state statistician with the USDA, said in an interview with The Bee/Fresnoland.

According to a USDA news release, “the ag census is the nation’s only comprehensive and impartial agriculture data for every state, county, and territory.”

The census collects detailed information on land use and ownership, producer characteristics, production practices, income, expenditures, labor, and other topics.

The census is especially important for California agriculture in light of the state’s ongoing drought. California’s current drought from 2020 to 2022 is now the driest three-year period on record and has taken a toll on California farmers.

“This will probably be the best chance to record the amount of fallow land by county,” Keough said.

He also said changes in cropland use — especially changes in the acreage of fallow land, fruit, and nut trees— are of “particular interest here in California.”

“Given our water and temperature situation this last year,” he said, “(this information) is going to be monitored closely, particularly at the county level.”

New questions on ag-tech, hemp

The 2022 ag census has new updates compared to prior years.

For the first time since the ag census was conducted in 1840, the USDA will also collect information about industrial hemp production.

The census also has questions on precision agricultural practices, said Keough, such as operations that involve GPS use or drone use for scouting and livestock handling.

There are also new questions related to hair sheep as well as updates to internet access questions.

Who should complete the census?

The USDA is encouraging farm operations —both urban and rural —to complete the ag census.

“I strongly encourage all farmers, no matter how large or small their operation, to promptly complete and return their ag census,” USDA Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a news release.

Operations that produce and sell (or normally would have sold) $1,000 or more of agricultural products in 2022 should complete the census.

“We’re encouraging more producers to report online if they have the internet access, it’s usually a little quicker,” said Keough.

Data will be collected through February 6, 2023. Keough said the tentative release of the census data will be in the spring of 2024.

The USDA mailed unique survey codes to all known agriculture producers across the country. These survey codes are to be used to complete the 2022 Census of Agriculture at agcounts.usda.gov.

Customer support is available Monday – Friday, 8am – 5pm CT for anyone that needs support in filling out the survey at: 1-888-424-7828.

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Melissa is a labor and economic inequality reporter with The Fresno Bee and Fresnoland.