If you're a farmer -- or if the U.S. Department of Agriculture thinks you might be one -- you'll soon be getting a questionnaire in the mail.
The 2012 Census of Agriculture is being mailed to farmers nationwide. Conducted every five years, the Census compiles detailed data on nearly every aspect of U.S. agriculture.
The Census helps USDA officials administer federal farm programs and also helps collect information on agricultural products such as bison, for which statistics aren't gathered annually, says Darin Jantzi, director of the North Dakota field office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service, an arm of USDA.
"This is your opportunity to help," Jantzi says to agricultural producers.
About 35,000 Census forms will be sent out in North Dakota, which has an estimated 32,000 farming operations, he says.
Every farmer and rancher is required by law to complete the Census if the farm or ranch produced or sold, or normally would have sold, at least $1,000 of ag products in the Census year.
In North Dakota, 84 percent of Census forms were completed five years ago, compared with the national average of 86 percent, Jantzi says.
Failing to complete the form carries a $100 fine, which isn't enforced, he says.
Federal law requires the National Ag Statistics Service to keep all individual information confidential. County-level data isn't released publicly if disclosure would compromise individual information, Jantzi notes.
All farmers and ranchers should receive the form by early January. Completed forms are due by Feb. 4, 2013.
"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," U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a news release.