Update: the USDA says it has extended the deadline and will accept census entries thru February 6.
The USDA Census of Agriculture is a giant data-gathering effort that happens once every five years. It collects information about who's growing what, how much and where.
Michael Dimock is president of Roots of Change, a group that's backed efforts to boost access to local produce for low-income Californians. In Dimock's view, it's critical for smaller farmers, like those who sell at farmers markets, to be counted by the census.
"The agriculture census is critically important because it helps the USDA and Congress determine how resources given to the agency are utilized and distributed," he says.
Dimock says the census data will have a ripple effect on what programs the USDA will fund, what loans it will give and what research it will support.
But Dimock says it can be a challenge for some smaller farmers to complete the census questionnaire, because they may have less time or they may not be plugged into what's happening online.
The once-every-five-year census also paints a picture that can help the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, which leads beginning farmer and rancher training programs.
"The Ag Census data is helpful in my work because we can see changes over time in the demographic profile of farmers [race, gender and size] that can help inform the type of training we offer," explains Sowerwine.
For instance, there has been a steady rise in the number of Latino farmers in California over the last two sets of Ag Census data. Since then, Sowerwine says she and her colleagues have incorporated beginning farmer and rancher training programs in Spanish.
The deadline to fill out the 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture questionnaire is February 5. Meanwhile, Congressional lawmakers are already shaping the 2018 Farm Bill.