By Joel Hall
An office of the U. S. Department of Agriculture will mail out the 2007 Census of Agriculture to all commercial and non-commercial farmers on Dec. 28.
The office, known as the National Agricultural Statistic Service -- or NASS --
takes the census for the government every five years to track the direction of agriculture down to the county level, according to Radley Edwards, deputy director of the Georgia field office of NASS in Athens.
Companies and cooperatives use the information to determine the locations of facilities that serve farmers. Community planners use the information to target services for rural residents. Legislators use the information to shape farm policies and programs.
"The census of agriculture is the most comprehensive study we do," said Edwards. "It gives an accurate picture of the agriculture industry at the time. Extension offices use the data to make sure that they are getting the information to the people who need it."
The census, sent to over 49,000 Georgia farmers, will determine which crops are being grown at what acreage and production expenses. It will also look at livestock inventory, and demographic information. Edwards described the information as "a benchmark" that governmental lending agencies and organizations use to formalize policy.
Frank Hancock, agricultural and natural resources agent for the Henry Extension office, said the Southern Crescent of Atlanta, which includes Clayton and Henry, is becoming more urban. The census helps determine what kind of services are needed.
"If you are in a place like Henry or Clayton, where so many people are moving in, agriculture is a changing entity," said Hancock. "We try to keep up with it on our own, but it's a time-consuming process. The census helps keep everybody up to date.
"[The census] determines our programming," Hancock continued. "In Henry county, we might not go around and do a whole bunch of seminars on how to grow cotton, but 30 years ago that is what we were talking about. It helps you keep up with the trends."
Hancock said the past census revealed that cattle, hay, timber, and commercial horse breeding were still important industries in Henry County.
Winston Eason, the agriculture and natural resource agent for Clayton County, was not available for comment.
For more information about the census, go to www.agcensus.usda.gov.