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Maine’s Small Farmers See Benefits from USDA Census

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Monday, January 30, 2023   

Maine's small farmers are encouraged to complete the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture census to ensure they have a voice in federal decisions that will shape the future of agriculture.

The census takes place every five years, collecting data that determines farm programs and services, disaster assistance, research, technology development, and more.

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

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

Hampson said data gathered 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 it can be completed through the USDA's ag counts website.

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

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

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

"It doesn't take that long to fill it out if you are a small farm," said Considine, "because you know you can skip a lot of sections and just fill out the parts that apply to you if you are a small farm."

Considine said without proper data from small farmers, even those that just sell their products at farmers' markets, farm policies could be centered around larger agribusiness operations.






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