USDA seeks data on organic farms

If you are an organic farmer, the National Agricultural Statistics Service has questions for you — lots of them.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is embarking on a wide-scale survey of organic agriculture as a follow-up to its 2007 Census of Agriculture.

That 2007 census covers more than 20,000 farms raising crops and livestock across the country, including 933 statewide and 62 in Jackson County.

Although the USDA's definition for farmers — someone with $1,000 or more in annual sales — differs from Oregon Tilth's requirement of sales of $5,000 or more when it grants organic certification, the NASS survey will take into account all organic farmers.

"Those individuals reporting organic production in 2007 were automatically selected," said Christopher Mertz, field office director at the Portland NASS office.

He said the survey digs deeper into what farmers grow and tend. Instead of grouping all crops together for acreage, harvest and marketing reports, the survey breaks down the crops and type of livestock.

"Whether it's apples, carrots, pears or strawberries, the survey asks about all the commodities and incorporates inventory and quantity sold," Mertz said.

The survey will examine organic farming during 2008 from production to sales practices as well as income and expenses.

The request, however, comes at a busy time for farmers.

"For most farmers, we're so busy trying to get the ground ready and plant crops and all that other business," said Suzy Fry of Fry Family Farm outside Talent. "We spend a lot of time doing censuses, surveys and crop reports each year. It's another hoop to go through. There's more and more paperwork trying to figure the whole thing out."

She says the paperwork generally takes about an hour.

"It's just right now is not the time to do it," Fry said.

On the other hand, Fry said there are many — especially younger — farmers who rely on information compiled by researchers.

"There are people who use books, statistics and a much more scientific approach," Fry said. "There's got to be a balance.

"There are lot of smart, young organic farmers that bring a whole other dynamic to it."

Farmers are required to mail in their surveys by June 17. They also can complete the survey online at

Mertz said the findings will be published in early 2010.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail

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