Corn harvest near Prairie du Sac (copy) (copy)

A farmer harvests corn along Highway Z north of Prairie du Sac in October 2016. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is mailing forms this month for its Census of Agriculture.

Sauk Prairie Eagle file photo

It’s time, once again, for farmers in Sauk and Juneau counties to stand up and be counted.

The same goes for farmers in all 72 Wisconsin counties, and anyone anywhere in the United States who earns or expects to earn at least $1,000 this year from products cultivated for food, fuel or fiber.

Every five years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture conducts its Census of Agriculture.

Sheila Harsdorf, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection, is urging farmers to watch their mailboxes in December, because that’s when the agriculture census forms will start to arrive.

They need to be completed and returned by Feb. 5. The forms may be completed on paper and mailed in, or online at a secure website. (Each survey will include a 17-digit code, unique to the respondent, to access the survey form online.)

The statistics garnered from the Census of Agriculture will be released in February 2019. The census yields detailed statistics for every county in the nation as to the number of farms, the types of operations, the size of farms, the percentage of farmers who depend on an enterprise other than farming as their main source of income, the median age of farmers and how many farming operations are headed by women and minorities.

In a news release, Harsdorf emphasized how vital those statistics are.

“As a legislator, I saw how valuable census data was when making policy decisions,” she said in the news release. “I know as secretary, we here at DATCP will use the census information often when working with government officials, agribusinesses and industry partners.”

Officials of the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service have added some new questions to the 2017 survey, including questions about producers’ status as military veterans and more details about commodity marketing practices and farm decision-making processes.

The last Census of Agriculture was conducted in 2012, with findings released in early 2014.

Here is some of what that census showed about agriculture in Sauk and Juneau counties:

  • In 2012, there were 827 farms in Juneau County, with an average size of 218 acre. That’s up from 797 farms counted in the 2007 census.
  • In Sauk County during the same period, the number of farms decreased by 13 percent, from 1,923 in the 2007 census to 1,685 in the 2012 census. The average size of the farms, however, went up by about 7 percent, from 187 acres to 200 acres.
  • In both counties, corn for grain was the top farm commodity in 2012. Sauk County ranked 12th in Wisconsin in corn production, with 80,683 acres in corn. Juneau County’s rank was 32nd, with 40,373 acres planted in corn.
  • In terms of livestock production, Sauk County had more laying hens (82,193) than cattle and calves (80,663). The leading livestock in Juneau County was cattle and calves — 24,388 head.
  • A trend that shows up in other Wisconsin counties — a significant number of farmers who depend on something other than farming as their main source of income — also held true in both Sauk and Juneau counties, but it was more pronounced in Juneau County, where 501 of the county’s 827 producers relied on off-farm income. In Sauk County, it was a little less than half — 812 out of 1,665 farmers depended on non-farm income for their livelihood.
  • The average age of farmers in both counties was the same: 57.
  • In Sauk County, 179 of the principal farm operators in the census were female. In Juneau County, that number was 82.
  • The market value of all the farm products sold in Sauk County in 2012 amounted to more than $207 million, a 15 percent increase from 2007. In Juneau County, the market value of farm commodities came to $124.77 million in 2012, up just 4 percent from the previous census. But in both counties, the average market value per farm went up by 33 percent from 2007 to 2012.

Federal law requires recipients of Census of Agriculture forms to complete them, even if they did not operate a farm or ranch in 2017.

A farmer need not be a participant in federal farm programs to complete the census form. The criteria for participation in the census are based on whether the farmer sold or expected to sell at least $1,000 worth of agriculture commodities in 2017.

Sensitive information about a particular farm’s operation is confidential, and will be used for statistical purposes only. The information collected in the census is not used for taxation, investigation or regulation of any kind.

More information is available at agcensus.usda.gov or 800-727-9540.

Follow Lyn Jerde on Twitter @LynJerde