By NACD Government Affairs Manager Eric Hansen
The USDA Census of Agriculture is conducted every five years. As a complete count of every farm in America, it is unique from other USDA data sets, which are based on sampling and statistical modeling.
The Ag Census started in 1840 and has been conducted by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) since 1997. The Ag Census provides a valuable data set on farm size, demographics and production. It also includes a few questions that are relevant to conservation.
The new 2017 Ag Census was released today, and it highlights some conservation-related trends in agriculture. The number of cropland acres that are planted to cover crops outside of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) has risen significantly over the past five years. In 2012, just over 10 million acres on about 133,500 farms were in cover crops. In 2017, this number rose to over 15 million acres on about 153,400 farms. This amounts to a roughly 50 percent increase in the number of acres under cover crops in just five years!
The number of acres in no-till and reduced tillage also saw increases between 2012 and 2017. No-till production increased about 8 percent and reduced tillage increased about 27.5 percent. Overall, no-till production represented about 26 percent of cropland acres, and reduced tillage represented about 25 percent of cropland acres. In total, about half of cropland was in no-till or reduced tillage production.
Every five years, the Ag Census gives us a unique glimpse into practices and changes in farms across the country. This year is no different. While the information in the Ag Census on conservation practices is limited, it is exciting so see the gains we have made in the last five years validated in this count.