The Campaign to Include Ethnicity in the USDA Census of Agriculture

Posted on Thursday, June 3rd, 2021 by
A screenshot of the Asian Business Institute & Resource Center’s (ABIRC) video calling for producer ethnicity to be included in the 2022 Census of Agriculture.

Every five years the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) conducts the Census of Agriculture to understand land use, practices and farmer demographics.  The results of the Census inform USDA’s programs and delivery of resources. For example, the most recent Agriculture Census in 2017 showed that the number of small farms were declining in California. The 2017 Census also showed that the number of farms with solar panels in California had more than doubled since 2012, from roughly 5,400 farms to nearly 14,000. You can read more about the 2017 Ag Census and what it told us about the state of California agriculture in one of our past blogs.

Despite adding new issues areas to the census over time like on-farm renewable energy, other key demographic information is missing from the census.  While understanding the breakdown of certain farm characteristics by producers’ race or gender can help our state and agriculture move towards equity, a key piece of data is missing: ethnicity. The Ag Census currently only asks producers about Hispanic, Latino/a or Spanish heritage, but no other categories.

The Asian Business Institute and Resource Center (ABIRC), which supports Asian farmers in the Central Valley with business development and access to government incentive and aid programs, recently announced a campaign calling on the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) to include ethnicity as a variable in the next Census of Agriculture. (Watch ABIRC’s video to learn more)

Why does this matter?

By excluding ethnicity as a variable, we are losing valuable data about the full picture of farmers in the state. We know from the 2017 Ag Census that 5.7% of producers (over 7,000) in California identified as Asian. But because the Census does not ask about ethnicity, we don’t know how many of these producers identify as Hmong, Punjabi, Chinese, Lao, Japanese, Vietnamese, etc.

Without this information, it is sometimes difficult for government and nonprofit programs to know where and how to target culturally and language-appropriate outreach and technical assistance for programs ranging from pandemic aid to climate smart agriculture programs. By capturing ethnicity in the Ag Census, farmer-serving organizations like ABIRC and those in our coalition would have a more robust data set to better inform, evaluate, and target federal, state and local programs so they can better support all of California’s farmers.

You can do something about this!

Action: Fill out the National Agricultural Statistics Service’s simple, brief form to ask to include ethnicity of producers as a variable in the next Census (2022).

ABIRC is calling on folks to submit comments by June 4th or as soon as possible thereafter because NASS has to finalize their draft Ag Census questionnaire this month. Below, we provide the steps and a sample of the comment CalCAN submitted for you to adapt and use in submitting your own comment:

  1. Go to:
  2. Select the census or survey that you would like to suggest a change to: Select 2022 Census of Agriculture
  3. What new or additional information is needed? Ethnicity of producers
  4. Why is the information needed? Data on the ethnicity of producers is needed to inform policymakers, policy advocates, and technical assistance providers, as well as to evaluate the extent to which federal and state programs are equitably serving farmers and ranchers.
  5. CalCAN’s comment: As a coalition of California-based agricultural organizations that advocates at both the federal and state levels for incentives, technical assistance, and research to support farmers and ranchers, we need disaggregated data on producer ethnicity to better understand the unique challenges different ethnic groups of farmers face, to track changes over time of key outcomes for different ethnic groups of farmers, and to inform targeted investments of culturally- and language-appropriate technical assistance to different ethnic groups of farmers to achieve equitable policy and program outcomes.
  6. At what level is the information needed? (U.S., state, county): This information is needed at all levels to inform and evaluate policies and programs at all levels.
  7. Who will use the information: Federal, state, and county policymakers, policy advocates, agricultural researchers, technical assistance providers, and philanthropists.
Stay Connected
Get newsletter and blog updates and action alerts from CalCAN