It's not every day that a walk to your mailbox leads to an opportunity to help shape farm programs, boost rural services and grow your farm future. But for producers across the country, that opportunity will soon become a reality. The 2012 Census of Agriculture, the only source of consistent and comprehensive agricultural data for every state and county in the nation, is currently being mailed to millions of farmers and ranchers across the United States.

Conducted every five years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), the Census provides detailed data covering nearly every facet of U.S. agriculture. It looks at land use and ownership, production practices, expenditures and other factors that affect the way farmers do business and succeed in the 21st Century.

“The 2012 Census of Agriculture provides farmers with a powerful voice. The information gathered through the Census influences policy decisions that can have a tremendous impact on farmers and their communities for years to come,” says Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “I strongly encourage all farmers, no matter how large or small their operation, to promptly complete and return their Census, so they can voice to the nation the value and importance of agriculture.”

Vilsack adds that in addition to affecting policy decisions, Census information also influences community growth and development. Many companies review Census data when determining where to establish or expand their businesses, as well as where they can go for supplies of locally-produced food and agricultural products, which further emphasizes the importance of supplying accurate information. Information from the Census also is valuable to explain the many ways farming is important to urban or non-farming residents and decision-makers.

“Along with their accomplishments as business men and women, farmers know about the challenges they face in their local areas,” Vilsack says. “Taking part in the Census is increasingly important to farmers and every community in America because it provides important information and helps tell the true story about the state of agriculture in the United States today.”

All farmers and ranchers should receive a Census form in the mail by early January. Completed forms are due by Feb. 4, 2013. Farmers can return their forms by mail or online by visiting a secure Web site, www.agcensus.usda.gov. Federal law requires all agricultural producers to participate in the Census and requires NASS to keep all individual information confidential.

For more information about the Census, visit www.agcensus.usda.gov or call (888) 4AG-STAT (888-424-7828).