CRESTVIEW — As 2013 gets underway, north Okaloosa County farmers are preparing to file required Census of Agriculture reports.


CRESTVIEW — As 2013 gets underway, north Okaloosa County farmers are preparing to file required Census of Agriculture reports.



Area farmers should receive their census forms in the mail in early January, and must submit them to the USDA by Feb. 4. Federal law protects the confidentiality of each farmer’s information gathered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service.



The USDA uses the census, which is due every five years, to assess the state of America’s farms and form farm policy.



“I’m sure the census is going to play a huge part of a new agriculture farm bill,” local USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service district conservationist Darryl Williams said. “In that bill is moneys tied all over the place. It goes from domestic programs through the farm system, from food stamps up to crops.”



With the north county being a large farming region, Williams said, “the food bill plays a major role in our area.”



A USDA news release called the Census of Agriculture “the only source of consistent and comprehensive agricultural data for every state and county in the nation.”



“The census provides detailed data covering nearly every facet of U.S. agriculture,” the release stated. “It looks at land use and ownership, production practices, expenditures and other factors that affect the way farmers do business and succeed in the 21st century.”



By federal law, the census is mandatory for all American farmers, including the approximately 250 forestry and cropland farmers in north Okaloosa County, Williams said.



“It’s a real valuable tool for formulating policy,” Williams said. “It’s to the local farmer’s advantage to fill out the census.”



Data collected “also influences community growth and development,” the USDA release stated.



“Many companies review census data when determining where to establish or expand their businesses, as well as where they can go for supplies of locally produced food and agricultural products, which further emphasizes the importance of supplying accurate information.



“Information from the census also is valuable to explain the many ways farming is important to urban or non-farming residents and decision-makers.”



Farming in Okaloosa County



The 2007 Census of Agriculture provides a snapshot of farming in Okaloosa County. Among its findings:



Number of farms: 567 (up 22 percent from 2002)



Farmland: 65,874 acres (up 20 percent from 2002)



Net farm income: $2 million



Total farm production expenses: $11 million



Government payments: $1.6 million



Average payment (for eligible farms):$8,000



Top crops: Cotton (fifth in the state, 286th in the U.S.), forage, peanuts, corn and pecans



Top livestock: Cattle, goats, horses/ponies and chickens



Average principal farmer’s age: 60.2



Online



See www.agcensus.usda.gov or call 1-888-4AG-STAT (1-888-424-7828) for more information about the U.S.D.A. Census of Agriculture.



Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or brianh@crestviewbulletin.com. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.