By Sean Ellis
Idaho Farm Bureau Federation
POCATELLO – Idaho farmers used the internet to fill out 2017 Census of Agriculture surveys at a higher percentage than any state in the nation and at a much higher rate than the national average.
Of all the farmers and ranchers in Idaho who filled out the Census of Ag survey, 34.46 percent did so online, according to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. The national average was 23.73 percent.
By comparison, Washington producers’ online response rate was 31.14 percent and Oregon’s response rate was 30.91 percent.
According to a recent broadband study by Speedtest, Idaho had the fourth slowest internet speeds in the nation and broadband connectivity has long been thought to be a major problem in rural areas of the state.
But Idaho farmers apparently didn’t get that memo, or they at least found a way around the slow internet speeds to fill out their Census of Ag surveys.
“That surprises me; I wouldn’t have thought that,” University of Idaho Agricultural Economist Garth Taylor said about Idaho leading the nation in use of the internet to fill out the surveys. “I don’t know what to say about that one. Farmers are connecting, I guess, despite their communities having slow broadband.”
While the No. 1 ranking is surprising, “It’s a good sign: farmers in Idaho are connected,” he added.
Ben Eborn, also a U of I ag economist, said he was also surprised to learn Idaho ranked No. 1 in that category.
“I guess we’re more connected than we thought,” he said. “Even with broadband connectivity as limited as it apparently is, farmers are finding a way to connect.”
Gordon Gallup, who grows wheat, barley and alfalfa near Ririe, said Idaho leading the nation in online Census of Ag responses “is kind of surprising but in a way, it’s not because we have a lot of the younger generation that is starting to take over our farms. Even for us old guys, we realize everything is run by computer so we might as well embrace it.”
Taylor said Idaho’s No. 1 ranking could have something to do with the size of farms in Idaho being larger than the average farm nationwide. Idaho has a lot of big farming operations, he said, especially those producing major farm commodities such as milk and potatoes.
Farmers running those types of operations have to remain on top of issues dealing with markets, purchases and other ag-related news, he said.
“A lot of our farmers have big operations and they have to be connected to run their farms,” Taylor said. “I don’t think you can have a business like that without being connected.”
The Census of Ag is taken every five years and is a complete count of every farm and ranch in the United States that produces or would normally produce at least $1,000 worth of products during the census year.
A significant amount of federal and state funds is allocated to the agriculture industry based on Census of Ag data and it also is used to help shape farm programs and policies.
It includes information on land use and ownership, production practices, income, expenditures and operator characteristics for every county in the nation.
According to Randy Welk, Idaho state statistician for NASS, 74.3 percent of Idaho’s farmers and ranchers responded to the survey, and Idaho ranked No. 12 in the nation in the percentage of farmers who returned a census survey.
The overall U.S. response rate was 71.8 percent.
USDA collected data for the 2017 Census of Agriculture in 2017 and the first half of 2018.
USDA had planned to release data from the 2017 Census of Ag on Feb. 21 but changed the date to April 11 due to the federal government shutdown.