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Government

Ag census in the mail

Written by Jennifer Womack

By Jennifer Womack, WLR Managing Editor 

Cheyenne – “It’ll be crazy here next week,” says Marlene Zumo. Behind her the room buzzes with the noise of phone conversations and the clicking of data being entered as operators ask questions about cattle and sheep.
    Zumo supervises 66 people who next week will begin taking questions from across the nation pertaining to the 2007 Ag Census. When they’re not working on the census, Zumo’s team gathers data for the numerous statistical reports relating to agriculture. Many in Wyoming agriculture are familiar with the phone calls that include questions about numerous aspects of the industry and result in a detailed report on prices, trends and more. Two examples of excerpts from those reports can be found in the news briefs within this edition of the Roundup.
    Zumo is an employee of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, an entity that contracts with USDA’s National Ag Statistics Service (NASS) to carry out survey work and once every five years, the Ag Census.
    NASS mailed the 2007 Census to agriculturalists across the nation on Dec. 28. Starting Monday Zumo and her team will begin fielding questions from across Wyoming and the nation. They expect the 16 telephone lines at the call center to stay busy for the next few months.
    “Wyoming is one of six call centers in the nation,” says Director of NASS’s Wyoming Office, Glenda Shepler. Her office is one floor below the call center where she and her staff can interact with the call center and obtain the timely information they need. Reaching the fourth floor, explains Shepler noting the agency’s commitment to protecting the information it gathers, requires a special pass.
    Location of the call center in Cheyenne increases the likelihood of finding employees with an agricultural background. When the 2002 Census was carried out Shepler says the there were four call centers across the nation. Noting that her agency wants there to be someone on-hand to answer questions, as opposed to a messaging system, the number was expanded. “Those four units received just fewer than 200,000 phone calls,” she notes of the 2002 Census.
    As the 2007 Census gets underway Shepler says 100 phone lines are available nationwide. Sixteen of those are in Wyoming. When individuals call the toll free number on their census form to ask a question they’re directed to one of the six call centers based on the time of day and the availability of open lines.
    Shepler has spent a great deal of time traveling the state this past year speaking to Wyoming agriculturalists about the importance of the census. “It’s the data USDA uses when working on the Farm Bill,” says Shepler of one application. It’s also a source of information for many about various aspects of agriculture nationwide.
    Agriculturalists now have three ways to complete the survey. Completing the written survey is one option. A second is phoning one’s answers in to the call center at 888-424-7828. A third, and new this year, is visiting the agency’s website at www.agcensus.nass.usda.gov. Shepler says the website is set up so producers can begin work on the survey, save it and return to it for completion.
    Shepler says those individuals who received a survey in error should contact her agency or mail the survey back with a note. That way, she explains, her agency’s mailing and calling lists can be updated.
    Surveys are due Feb. 4. In March Shepler says operators in the call centers will begin calling those who haven’t returned their survey. They also visit some farms and ranches sitting down with producers to complete the document.
    Wyoming, according to Shepler, has less than a 10 percent refusal rate. It’s one of the better in the region, she notes. Call center employees, she says, like it when they get to make calls to Wyoming producers.