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The ag census is due soon. Here's what to know

In a fenced off area, a farmer stands on a dividing line between mud, where some pigs are cooling off, and grass where other hogs are grazing. Facing the camera he's wearing high rise, waterproof boots, and a plaid t-shirt with a cap that reads "McIntyre Farms" on his head. It's a clear sunny morning.
Gustavo Sagrero
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Boise State Public Radio
Loren McIntyre started farming this land when his father passed away – he was 17.

Most farms in Idaho have 50 or fewer acres. There are more than 2 million cows in the state raised for dairy or beef production. The top three counties for producing the highest value of agricultural products sold are in the Magic Valley.

We know all that from the last agricultural census, the results of which were released in 2019 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The 2022 census is due by mail or online by Feb. 6.

Farmers who make at least $1,000 from agriculture have been filling out the form since 1840. It gives us a snapshot of who farms and ranches in the U.S., and what they grow, down to the county level.

“We get an idea of the size of farms, demographics of who’s farming and we also pick up what commodities are being farmed," said Ben Johnson, a statistician with the National Agricultural Statistics Service at the USDA in Boise.

The results from the census will be released in 2024 and they're used to guide federal and state policy, research and business decisions by industries that cater to agriculture.

In the past, the results have shown the shrinking acreage of land in agricultural production in the Treasure Valley; the aging of the average farmer; and the consolidation of small farms.

An updated question in the last census that allowed farms to list up to four "principal operators" revealed an uptick in the number of women farm leaders in Idaho; however, researchers believe this was primarily due to the way the question has changed over time.

Johnson said he’s anticipating answers from this survey to tell a story about how inflation has affected the sector.

“If they’re renting land, we ask how much they’re paying for rent, the cost of inputs, fertilizers and pesticides, costs for labor, utility," he said.

Some new or updated questions this year ask if farmers are using certain technologies like drones or robotic milking machines, and also try to better understand internet access because the USDA manages rural broadband, too.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2023 Boise State Public Radio

As the south-central Idaho reporter, I cover the Magic and Wood River valleys. I also enjoy writing about issues related to health and the environment.

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