The U.S. Census Bureau counted the number of people in America in 2010. Now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is preparing to collect data for the “Census of Agriculture.” 

“The Census is used by everyone in agriculture and rural America as well,” says Renee Picanso, director of the project. “It’s used to base numerous decisions on as well as to formulate policy and planning for rural America.”

The Census of Agriculture is conducted every five years. Three million surveys for the latest census were mailed Friday. Farmers are asked a range of questions, including how much they spend to put in a crop and how many animals were raised on their farm in the past year.

“We do have a few new questions this year,” Picanso says. “We have an expanded section on internet use. We have an expanded section on equine and we’re also asking additional questions on renewable energy, to find out what’s going on on the farms with use and development of renewable energy.”

According to Picanso, the time required to fill out the survey depends on the type of operation you have.

“We’ve estimated a maximum of 60 minutes,” Picanso says. “But there are many producers who only farm one crop or maybe have only one livestock item and in that case it can take as little as 15 minutes to fill it out.”

The due date for returning the survey is February 4, 2013.

“Farmers can respond via mail or over the internet,” Picanso says. “Any farmer or rancher who doesn’t respond by February 4 will get a follow-up questionnaire in the mail or a phone call or even a personal visit.”

Participation in the Census is required by law and, like the U.S. Census of people, individual responses are to be kept confidential.

The first Census of Agriculture was conducted in 1820, along with the census count of people. After the 1978 Census of Agriculture, the USDA decided to send out the census every five years, in years ending with a two or seven.

(Reporting by Dan Skelton, KICD, Spencer)