Maine small farmers see benefits from USDA census

Maine small farmers are encouraged to complete the most recent census from the US Department of Agriculture. to ensure you have a say in federal decisions that will shape the future of agriculture.

The census is conducted every five years and collects data that determines agricultural programs and services, disaster assistance, research, technological development, and more.

Rhiannon Hampson, USDA state director and a Knox County dairy farmer, said the best way for small farmers to represent themselves is to let USDA know they exist.

"You know, as small farms we don't have paid representatives for us before federal agencies," Hampson said. "We are our own defenders and this is one of the tools we can best use to defend ourselves."

Hampson said data collected in the last census helped USDA better support farmers during the COVID-19 pandemic, when wholesale markets were drying up and farms were losing profits.

The early deadline to complete the census is February 6 and can be completed through the website of USDA agricultural counts .

Since 1840, the agricultural census has collected useful data on Maine's wild blueberry, maple syrup, and potato farms, as well as their decline.

The last census revealed that Maine lost more than 570 farms between 2012 and 2017 .

Angie Considine, a USDA New England state statistician, said the data collected is confidential and any operation with about $1,000 in annual sales should participate.

"It doesn't take as long to complete if you're a small farm," Considine said, "because you know you can skip a lot of sections and only complete the parts that apply to you if you're a small farm."

Considine said that without adequate data from small farmers, even those who only sell their produce at farmers' markets, agricultural policies could focus on larger agribusiness operations.

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