In late December, farmers throughout Virginia received Census of Agriculture reporting forms from USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). NASS is now reminding farmers that the deadline for returning Feb. 4, 2008.

Producers can return their forms by mail or, for the first time, they have the option of filling out the Census online at this secure Web site: http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Online_Response/index.asp.

According to Herman Ellison, director of the Virginia NASS Field Office, “The Census of Agriculture is the responsibility of every farmer and rancher, regardless of the size or type of operation. 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, 2007.

“It is extremely important that all farmers return their forms by the Feb. 4, 2008 deadline, because only with full participation will the Census present an accurate picture of Virginia agriculture.

“Census information is used by many organizations, businesses, agencies, planners, policy makers and the farmers themselves to develop production and market strategies, and plan for the future so it’s vital that it is accurate.”

Census questions cover basic subjects such as land use and ownership, operator characteristics, production practices, income and expenditures, and many other areas. The Census of Agriculture is the only report that gives a detailed look at all commodities on the county, state and national level.

A federal law guarantees the confidentiality of the information farmers provide. No individual information is shared with any Federal, state or local agency. USDA publishes the data totals for statistical purposes only, and the information cannot be used for purposes of taxation, investigation or regulation.

USDA will provide farmers with access to the Census results in summary reports that can help them make decisions about their own operations.

NASS will release Census data, in both electronic and print formats, beginning in February 2009. Census of Agriculture data is available online at www.nass.usda.gov.

For additional information, check www.agcensus.usda.gov or call the Agricultural Statistics Hotline at 1-800-727-9540.