2022 Census of Agriculture Data Released

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS) Census of Agriculture serves as a voice, future, and opportunity for America’s farmers and ranchers, and Indian Country is no exception. The USDA recently published the 2022 Census of Agriculture data online at nass.usda.gov/AgCensus. 

“Data are critical in telling the story of agriculture, both its challenges and its successes. There is more work to do to paint a complete picture of Indigenous agriculture and all its nuances, but we are excited to see what part of Indian Country ag’s story this Ag Census tells,” said Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative’s Executive Director, Erin Parker.

The Census of Agriculture aims to be a complete count of America’s farms and ranches and the people who operate them. The census takes place once every five years and looks at land use, ownership, operation, production, income, and expenditures.  

Agricultural census data is important for Tribal producers for several reasons: 

  • Resource Allocation
    • Accurate census data impacts resource distribution. This can include government funding, grants, and support programs. Tribal producers rely on these resources to enhance their agricultural practices, invest in infrastructure, and improve productivity.
  • Policy Development: 
    • Census data provides the information needed to develop policies and the programs they govern. Too often, federal programs take a one-size-fits-all approach, which can often hinder Indian Country’s access to vital resources available in non-Native communities. Having comprehensive and reliable data ensures these policies focus on the issues that impact Native agriculture.  
  • Land Tenure and Rights:
    • Clear and accurate data on land ownership, use, and tenure is essential for establishing and protecting the land rights of Tribal producers. This information helps secure legal recognition of traditional lands and facilitates access to agricultural resources.
  • Sustainable Development:
    • Understanding the agricultural practices and ways in which Tribal producers use the land is essential in promoting sustainable development. Census data can highlight environmentally friendly and culturally sensitive farming methods. This supports efforts to balance economic development with environmental conservation. 
  • Community Planning:
    • Tribal communities use census data to plan and manage their agricultural activities. It assists in identifying areas for development, optimizing resource use, and ensuring that community goals align with the available agricultural resources.
  • Economic Empowerment:
    • Accurate agricultural census data makes for a better understanding of the economic contributions of Tribal producers. This information is vital for fair market access, negotiating trade agreements, and attracting investment in Tribal agricultural ventures. 
  • Cultural Preservation:
    • Tribal agriculture often encompasses culturally significant practices. Census data helps uphold these traditions by recognizing and supporting Indigenous agricultural methods, crops, and livestock breeds.
  • Disaster Preparedness and Response:
    • Having up-to-date information on agricultural assets and vulnerabilities allows for better disaster preparedness and response efforts.
  • Education and Extension Services:
    • Census data supports the development of educational programs and extension services that cater to the specific needs of Tribal producers. This includes training on sustainable farming practices, modern agricultural techniques, and market access strategies.
  • Representation:
    • Accurate census data helps policymakers understand the impact and importance of Indian Country’s policy priorities. This data is instrumental in ensuring that Tribal voices are heard in local, regional, and national policy discussions. 

NASS tries to get reports from every American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) farm or ranch producer in the country. If that isn’t possible within some reservations, NAAS conducts a single reservation-level census report. 

If a Tribal producer/ Ag operator does not participate, NASS uses a capture-recapture methodology to correct for nonresponse, which helps estimate population size. 

While NASS has employed tremendous effort into gaining AI/AN producers to complete the Ag Census, difficulties reflect a combination of historical, logistical, and cultural factors, including:  

  • Historical Disparities:
    • Forced displacement affects Native communities’ land records and property rights. This historical context makes it challenging to establish clear boundaries for agricultural holdings. 
  • Trust and Cultural Sensitivity:
    • Indigenous communities may be hesitant to share information due to a history of exploitation and mistrust. Building trust between government agencies and Tribal citizens is crucial, and this requires cultural sensitivity and understanding of traditional practices.
  • Variable Agricultural Practices:
    • Indigenous communities often use traditional agricultural practices that may not align with conventional census categories. Standardized survey tools may not capture these distinctions, leading to underrepresentation or misclassification.
  • Small-scale and Subsistence Farming: 
    • Traditional Indigenous agricultural systems are often small-scale or subsistence farming. The conventional agricultural census frameworks are designed for larger, commercial operations. Adapting survey methods to account for these unique practices is essential.
  • Data Privacy Concerns:
    • Concerns about data privacy may deter Tribal census participation. Addressing these concerns as well as ensuring the safety of this data is crucial for obtaining accurate and reliable information. 
  • Remote Locations:
    • Participation in the census has proven difficult due to a lack of access to resources as well as remote locations of Tribal farms. This includes financial resources for data collection efforts and technical expertise to navigate the census process.  
  • Cultural and Linguistic Diversity:
    • Tribal lands often encompass a wide range of cultural and linguistic diversity. Ensuring that census materials are culturally appropriate and available in relevant languages is essential for accurate data collection. 

 Another hurdle is USDA’s definition of what constitutes a “farm.” According to the USDA website, a farm must sell, or would normally sell, $1,000 worth of agricultural products annually.  

“For Tribal producers and citizens who may conduct in traditional trade, subsistence farming, and more, the $1,000 requirement can be prohibitive,” said Mary Belle Zook (Citizen Potawatomi Nation), IFAI communications director. “Some Tribal producers do not meet this definition, but are still producing, feeding their families and communities, and trading agricultural products via trade routes and relationships that pre-date the U.S.” 

Addressing these challenges requires a collaborative approach involving Tribal leaders, government agencies, and Indian Country producers. Recognizing the unique circumstances of Tribal lands and incorporating culturally sensitive approaches are essential steps toward obtaining accurate agricultural census data. 

In addition to publishing the 2022 data, NASS announced it will also release a detailed report for American Indian Reservations set for release August 2024. 

Watch IFAI’s website and social media pages for updates, webinars, and more. Find the newest Census of Agriculture data online at nass.usda.gov/AgCensus.