Peanuts: the numbers (using the Census of Agriculture)

We would like to share some numbers with you. Not regular non-meaning numbers but some real nutty numbers. We have been digging through the data provided by the USDA (United States Depart of Agriculture), the Census of Agriculture and the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States). The FAO has recently released their new FAOSTAT application which makes searching for statistics, facts and numbers WAY easier.

What is the Census of Agriculture?

Now what is the Census of Agriculture? This department of the USDA is all about numbers and statistics. The people who work here compile all kinds of data, they then put the data in nice tables and graphs so that it's easy to comprehend. However, some reports are over 700 pages so it might be a little difficult to find what you're looking for. Some examples of what kind of data the Census of Agriculture collects: sizes of farms, usage of fertilizers and chemicals, land use, farm income, number of female operators on farms, what the ages are of the people working on the farm, number of goats on an average farm, amount of peanuts harvested in Oklahoma, percentage of farmers that own the land, most popular crops, value of machinery and much and much more. As you can see, the Census of Agriculture is a true treasure of agricultural data.

Not all numbers are published

The census only takes place every five years. We are using the numbers that have been published on May 2nd 2014: the 2012 census. The next census will take place in 2017. Now why do they only count every five years? Because it is a LOT of work, hence it takes two more years to finally publish the data online. In these two years USDA analysts have been compiling all the data, double-checking it and even triple-checking it to make sure it is as accurate as possible. Not all numbers have been published, sometimes there is only one single farm in an entire state that, for example, produces peanuts, if the USDA would publish the data for that entire state then everyone would know the ins and outs of that specific farm: the amount of money they make, the profiles of the people who work there, the types of machinery they have et cetera. That is why some of the data is protected, when you open up the report withheld data has been marked using a (D).

How to use the Census of Agriculture report?

All those numbers, it seems so complicated! Well, it's actually really easy. We recommend you first read the introduction pages of the report: here you see what the different symbols mean, how the data has been collected and more general information about the census and the data used in the report. The data has been ordered logically in numbered tables under different chapters. If you want to find a specific word or phrase within the document you can use CTRL + F to search.

Alright, enough about the census itself. Let's get to the numbers!

Peanuts throughout the years

For our first piece of data we are going to look at the farms that produce peanuts. More specifically: we are going to look at their development. The census has been held every 5 years so we can compare data from 5 years ago and even from 10 and 15 years ago to data from now. This way you can easily detect changes and see trends forming in different fields. Let's take a look at table 1 (continued) on page 18 of the report, scroll down till you see "peanuts for nuts". Here we see the number of farms that produce peanuts, the amount of acres that peanuts are produced on and the amount of pounds of peanuts that have been produced over one year.

Farms that produce peanuts: 6,561
Acres that are used for peanut production: 1,621,631
Total amount of peanuts produced: 6,660,492,899

Farms that produce peanuts: 6,182
Acres that are used for peanut production: 1,200,564
Total amount of peanuts produced: 1,200,564

Farms that produce peanuts: 8,640
Acres that are used for peanut production: 1,223,093
Total amount of peanuts produced: 3,137,586,781

Farms that produce peanuts: 12,788
Acres that are used for peanut production: 1,377,097
Total amount of peanuts produced: 3,434,648,039

Now what can we see from the data above?
1: The amount of farms that produce peanuts has been decreasing since 1997: it went from well over 12,000 to almost half it: 6,000. However, during the years 2007-2012 around 400 new farms were founded that are in the peanut production business.
2: The amount of acres used to grow peanuts on was also going down. However, in 2012 it went back up.
3: The total amount of peanut production has been doubled since 1997.

Pretty interesting, huh? All that information from just a few numbers! Within the report there is lots and lots of information to be found regarding peanuts. In the next few paragraphs we will try to present the information from the report to you in a simplified way, you can also try to read along using the actual report.

More in part 2: nutty numbers!

That is it for today. We hope you learned a lot about the Census of Agriculture and how to interpret data used in reports. See? It's not that difficult. Above all, we hope you enjoyed learning more about peanuts. Now that you know how the process of extracting data from the report works: try it yourself! In the meantime, we will be busy writing part 2: Nutty numbers.
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