Frequently Asked Questions

To find out more:


About the 2017 Census of Agriculture
  • 1. What is the Census of Agriculture?

    The Census of Agriculture is a complete count of U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them. Even small plots of land – whether rural or urban – count if $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the census year.

    The Census of Agriculture, conducted once every five years, looks at land use and ownership, operator characteristics, production practices, income, and expenditures.

  • 2. Why is the Census of Agriculture important?

    The Census of Agriculture provides the only source of uniform, comprehensive, and impartial agriculture data for every county in the nation. Through the Census of Agriculture, producers can show the nation the value and importance of agriculture and can influence decisions that will shape the future of U.S. agriculture.

  • 3. Who uses Census of Agriculture data?

    Census of Agriculture data are used by all those who serve farmers and rural communities — federal, state and local governments, agribusinesses, trade associations, and many others.

    • Farmers and ranchers can use Census of Agriculture data to make informed decisions about the future of their own operations.
    • Companies and cooperatives use the data to determine where to locate facilities that will serve agricultural producers.
    • Community planners use the information to target needed services to rural residents.
    • Legislators use census data when shaping farm policies and programs.

  • 4. How did NASS conduct the Census of Agriculture?

    The National Agricultural Statistics Service mailed 2017 Census of Agriculture questionnaires to farm and ranch operators in December 2017 to collect data for the 2017 calendar year. They could respond online or by returning the completed questionnaire by mail. Responses were due by February 5, 2018. NASS sent reminder notices to those who did not respond and continued to accept responses until early August.

  • 5. Does NASS keep the information provided by individual respondents private?

    NASS is bound by law (Title 7, U.S. Code, and the Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act or CIPSEA, Public Law 107-347) – and pledges to every data provider – to use the information for statistical purposes only. NASS publishes only aggregated data, not individual or farm-specific data.

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Census Results
  • 6. When will NASS release 2017 Census of Agriculture results?

    NASS will release 2017 Census of Agriculture results beginning April 11, 2019. Originally scheduled for February 2019, the release was postponed because of the lapse in federal funding early in the year. Detailed data will be available for the 2017 and earlier censuses in both print and electronic formats for the United States as well as all states and counties. A full schedule is available at www.nass.usda.gov/AgCensus.

  • 7. Where can I find Census of Agriculture data?

    You can find Census of Agriculture data online at www.nass.usda.gov/AgCensus, where the information is available through our searchable online data base Quick Stats, our Census Data Query Tool, downloadable PDF reports, maps, and a variety of topic-specific products. Reports can be viewed at the local NASS field office in your area and at many depository libraries, universities, and other state government offices.

  • 8. Will NASS publish all data?

    No, not all data will be available. If publishing a particular data item would identify an operation (for example, if there is only one producer of a particular commodity in a county), NASS does not publish the information. In such cases, the data are suppressed and shown as “(D),” meaning “withheld to avoid disclosing data for individual operations.” A dash represents zero, no data for that particular data item.

  • 9. Will NASS release any new data topics in the 2017 Census of Agriculture?

    Yes. NASS changed some questions in the 2017 Census in order to better capture who is involved in farm decision making and also asked some new questions. NASS looks forward to reporting changes and trends in agricultural production as well as expanded demographic data, including for the first time information about farmers with military service. In addition, there is more detailed information about farm marketing practices, including marketing directly to retail markets and institutions, and the value of sales of processed or value-added items produced on the farm operation.

  • 10. Why did the 2017 Census change how it counts producers?

    After the 2012 Census, NASS convened an expert panel to consider feedback from data users and stakeholders that the census did not adequately measure the contributions of all persons involved in U.S. farm operations and agricultural production. The panel examined this concern and the census questionnaire and then made recommendations for the 2017 Census and beyond.

  • 11. How do I get counted for the next Census of Agriculture in 2022?

    A farm is defined in the census as any place that produced and sold, or normally would have sold, $1,000 or more of agricultural products during the census year. If your farm meets this benchmark you can register online.


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Methodology
  • 12. What is Methodology?

    In statistics, methodology refers to the processes by which data are collected, analyzed, and summarized.

  • 13. What methodology did NASS use to conduct the 2017 Census?

    Most 2017 Census methodology is the same as that used in 2012. However, from one census to the next NASS considers what enhancements to the methodology can improve the process. In 2017, NASS improved its outreach and awareness efforts to encourage producers to respond to the census. Despite these and other efforts, agriculture census response rates have declined over time. This type of decline is being experienced across the research and survey community in all fields. In the 2017 Census, NASS used capture-recapture methodology, an accepted statistical methodology, to account for undercoverage (farms not reached in the original mailing), nonresponse (people not returning their census questionnaires), and misclassification (whether an operation is correctly classified as a farm or not). The methodology is documented thoroughly in Appendix A of the 2017 Census.

  • 14. How does NASS account for those who did not respond to the 2017 Census?

    In an ideal world, response to a census would be 100 percent, but that is not realistic. To account for farmers who did not participate in the census, NASS used statistical methodology to correct for nonresponse, undercoverage, and misclassification. The uncertainty these adjustments introduce causes us to not know the exact numbers. However, the uncertainty can be quantified. This measure of relative reliability is published at all geographic levels as the coefficient of variation.

    As part of this process, the census responses are compared to data NASS already has and other known information called administrative data. For example, in June each year NASS conducts a survey that is a sample of farms in the United States. Statistical models are developed based on matching information from this survey with information from the census. These models take into account the size of a farm (in terms of both land area and sales of agricultural products), the age of an operator, the type of farm, and a number of other features. Using these models, NASS can adjust for nonresponse, undercoverage, and misclassification to develop accurate and reliable estimates for U.S. agriculture.

  • 15. Can I be sure the data are accurate?

    The source of census information is farmers, ranchers, and other producers who are closest to the information. However, errors can occur on the response forms. NASS reviews all submitted responses and follows up on entries that look out of line. NASS may contact a producer to verify information or compare information to existing known data, all to ensure the most accurate information.

    NASS then uses statistical methodology to correct for undercoverage (farms not reached in the original mailing), nonresponse (people not returning their census questionnaires), and misclassification (whether an operation is correctly classified as a farm or not). The uncertainty these adjustments introduce causes the exact numbers to be unknown. However, the uncertainty can be quantified. This measure of relative reliability is known as the coefficient of variation. In the 2017 Census results, NASS is publishing a measure of uncertainty with all estimates at the national, state, and county level, increasing transparency and data usability.

  • 16. What is coefficient of variation and what does it mean for this Census of Agriculture?

    The coefficient of variation (CV) provides a measure of uncertainty of an estimate. The lower the coefficient of variation, the higher the reliability of the estimate. For the census, it means that those using the data can assess the comparable reliability of the census estimates. By publishing the CV, NASS is increasing transparency and data usability down to the county level.

  • 17. Can I compare 2017 Census data with previous years’ results?

    Yes, the numbers are comparable. The results of each Census of Agriculture represent U.S. agriculture at a point in time. Comparing the results from two or more censuses can reveal trends as well as changes and new developments in the industry. Throughout each census cycle, NASS evaluates its processes, applies new technologies, and makes improvements in its methodology so that all agricultural operations in the nation can be accounted for.

    One topic on which NASS made some changes is in the demographic information collected. After the 2012 Census, NASS heard from data users and stakeholders that the roles of all persons involved in making decisions for U.S farms should be better captured. Based on the recommendations of an expert panel NASS convened to consider the issue, the 2017 Census questionnaire allowed farmers and ranchers to designate multiple people per farm as principals instead of just asking for one “principal operator” as in previous years. To allow comparison with 2012 and prior years, the census results contain a “bridging table” that compares a single “primary producer” per farm (determined through a complex statistical edit) with the “principal operator” of 2012. Data users can also compare 2012 and 2017 data using the “all producer” items.

  • 18. How do you explain numbers that seem out of line or inaccurate?

    NASS takes great pains to produce the most accurate and useful data available. Statistically valid procedures are in place to collect, analyze, summarize, and report the results of NASS surveys as well as the Census of Agriculture. The reported information is checked against other known administrative data and double checked if it looks incorrect. Staff working in each state who have local knowledge review the data as well. With all of that said, these are statistical estimates and therefore NASS publishes the coefficient of variation as a measure of the uncertainty associated with each estimate. With that measure, people can better understand and use the data.

  • 19. What does a “significant change” mean?

    The traditional 5 percent level of significance is used to determine whether or not an observed change from 2012 to 2017 is statistically significant. Each comparison between a 2012 and a 2017 census estimate uses statistical methods that account for the uncertainty of each estimate. However, there is a difference between statistical significance and practical significance. Some changes that are not statistically significant may be of high practical importance; other changes that are statistically significant may be inconsequential in practice. The data user must assess the practical significance of a change.

  • 20. How does NASS count producers on American Indian Reservations?

    To maximize coverage of American Indian and Alaska Native agricultural producers, NASS made a concerted effort to get individual reports from every American Indian and Alaska Native farm or ranch producer in the country. If this was not possible within some reservations, a single reservation-level census report covering agricultural activity on the entire reservation was collected. NASS staff reviewed these data and removed duplication with any data reported by individual producers.

    Additionally NASS obtained, from knowledgeable reservation officials, the count of producers on reservations who were not counted through individual census forms but whose agricultural activity was included in the reservation-level report form. In addition to the data released on April 11, 2019, NASS will release a detailed 2017 Census report on American Indian Reservations in August 2019.

  • 21. Where can I learn more about the methodology?

    Appendix A of the 2017 Census of Agriculture explains the methodology NASS used to collect, analyze, summarize, and report the information in depth. You can learn more about the statistical method used to correct for undercoverage (farms not reached in the original mailing), nonresponse (people not returning their census questionnaires), and misclassification (whether an operation is correctly classified as a farm or not) by reading Capture-Recapture in the 2012 Census of Agriculture: A Beginner’s Guide.

  • 22. Who can I contact if I think there might be a problem with the data?

    If you have a concern about state- or county-level data, please contact the appropriate USDA NASS regional office (www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/RFO/index.php). If your concern is about national-level data, please contact nass@nass.usda.gov or call 800-727-9540. You will be directed to the appropriate subject matter expert. Finally, if you want to make an official request to correct data, please follow the instructions posted online at www.nass.usda.gov/About_NASS/Information_Quality_Guidelines/

  • 23. Where can I find whether any corrections have been made to the Census publications?

    NASS posts corrections to its reports online at Statistical Release Corrections. The page provides the report name, a description of the correction, and the notification date.

Last Modified: 04/02/2019