One question comes to mind now that the feds have launched another Census of Agriculture: How many banana growers does Stanislaus County have?
The last census, in 2007, found one small grower of that tropical fruit amid the county's temperate-zone crops.
Oddities like that flavor the twice-a-decade census, which mainly showcases the major farm products.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has started mailing 2012 census forms to farmers and ranchers big and small. They have until Feb. 4 to respond by mail or online. Participation is required, but information specific to each farm is confidential.
The census asks about income, expenses, farming practices, age, race, gender, outside work and other details. The data will be of use to a wide range of people, including policy-makers, researchers and owners of farm-serving businesses.
"The 2012 Census of Agriculture provides farmers with a powerful voice," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a news release. "The information gathered through the census influences policy decisions that can have a tremendous impact on farmers and their communities for years to come."
The census started in 1840 as a means to gather information about what was then an agrarian nation.
The 2012 results will take about a year to come out, but they no doubt will show that farming still matters to our economy and national character. Agriculture has been a shining light amid the gloom about the housing market, retail and other sectors where people have lost jobs.
Dairy farming remains the top-grossing portion of our area's ag economy, though the net-income part of the equation has been stressed by high feed costs.
Almonds and walnuts continue to thrive, and the farmers have more control over production costs than the dairy people.
Stanislaus County remains the nation's top apricot producer, though downsized from the crop's heyday. San Joaquin County still leads in cherries; Merced in sweet potatoes.
The census will reflect the upswing in grape prices that has improved the outlook for farmers who supply our big wineries. And it will show that plenty of chickens and turkeys still come from here, though they, too, are costly to feed.
The surveys will tease out just how many llamas traipse through Tuolumne County pastures and what their wool brings from buyers.
We will find out if the number of mink farms in Stanislaus and neighboring counties has increased beyond the zero reported in 2007.
And we will see if we still have a banana grower. The 2007 census did not specify the location or size of this operation. It did say that California had 15 banana growers totaling 44 acres, mostly in San Diego County.
Who knows? Maybe someone will also take up pineapple farming here. That would mean a local source for the Del Monte and Seneca canneries, which mix the tropical ingredient into fruit cocktail.
On the Net: More details on the Census of Agriculture are at www.agcensus.usda.gov.
Got an idea for the Farm Beat? Contact Bee staff writer John Holland at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2385.