The Cherokee Nation encourages farmers and ranchers within its 14-county jurisdiction to return U.S. Department of Agriculture census forms next month so they won’t miss out on thousands of dollars to boost their businesses and livelihood.
Every five years the USDA takes a count of farms and ranches and those who operate them. That data shapes decisions on USDA farm programs and how tax dollars are used for loans, aid and grants in an area. Traditionally, Cherokee farmers and ranchers have been underreported on the count because they may not realize they qualify, don’t get a form or may not feel comfortable responding. Not responding could exclude them from programs designed to help them, said Pat Gwin, Cherokee Nation’s administrative liaison.
“Agriculture is a huge industry in the Cherokee Nation, so it’s extremely important that Cherokee farmers and ranchers are counted in this census,” Gwin said. “We are cheating ourselves if we are not included. The Cherokee Nation will never get a fair share of USDA dollars coming back to help our citizens and community if we don’t fill out these forms.”
The USDA mailed census forms Dec. 29 and has a return deadline of Feb. 4. Census workers will be collecting data through the end of March.
A farmer or rancher must have had the potential to earn $1,000 or more of agriculture products in 2012 to complete a form. The individual is not required to be Native American or own the land on which he or she operates a farm or ranch.
USDA State Director Will Hundl said Census forms are filled out and organized by county. If a county doesn’t show any farmers or too few, the USDA wouldn’t offer grants or help with new programs thinking there aren’t any farmers to help.
“Cherokee farmers and ranchers really would be missing out,” Hundl said.
To request a census form or assistance filling out a form, call 1-888-424-7828 or www.agcensus.usda.gov.