USDA is going to use the upcoming Census of Agriculture to find out where farmers are using precision agriculture methods and to identify parts of the country where there are gaps in high-speed internet access.

The 2022 survey will include a question for the first time about whether farmers are using precision agriculture methods. The question will be accompanied by examples of those methods, including GPS yield monitoring, soil mapping, variable rate input applications, and the use of drones for scouting fields and electronic tags for tracking animals.

There won’t be any additional questions on the subject, but the responses could be used by USDA for follow-up surveys, Donald Buysse, chief of the Census Planning Branch for USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, told Agri-Pulse.

The Ag Census is conducted every five years. USDA used data from the 2017 survey to do follow-up studies on issues including irrigation practices, horticulture and organic production.

The 2022 survey also will have questions for the first time about hemp production and hair sheep, a variety that don’t produce wool.

The hemp question will provide information that hasn’t been available before about the characteristics of farms that produce the crop.

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USDA has asked about internet access before, but to get a better read on high-speed coverage in rural areas, this year’s survey includes a question about the type of service a farmer has, such as fiber optic, cellular data, satellite and DSL.

Although respondents won’t be asked about their service speeds, knowing the type of plan that farms have will provide new and more precise information about the location of broadband gaps, said Buysse.

“When you map that information, then all of a sudden you get this visual representation of where some counties in the country might be lacking” high-speed service, he said.

The census launches in November when USDA mails an invitation to farmers to answer the questions online. Paper questionnaires will go to farmers in December. USDA wants to finish the survey by February.

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