According to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, Native Americans continue to be one of the most underrepresented groups in the Census of Agriculture. While more producers are participating every year, much of the data is still missing.
The Census of Agriculture provides comprehensive and impartial agricultural data for every county in the nation. According to the USDA, producers can show the nation the value and importance of agriculture and make better decisions for their own operations.
Zach Ducheneaux with the Intertribal Agriculture Council said there is a reason why some Native Americans are reluctant to share their information.
“When you’re considering the relationship that Native American producers have had with the United States government over the last 200 years, there are some well-reasoned historical arguments for not letting them know what you are doing,” Ducheneaux said.
The USDA is doing better at rebuilding trust and working with Native American producers, according to Ducheneaux. The information can help improve the economic and social status in these communities.
“You have a right to privacy you have a right to your own business as your farm or ranch or do whatever you’re doing,” he said. “When you take that check from the government to help you in your ag endeavor, you have an obligation to provide them the information they need to provide a more enlightened approach to that public policy.”
The 2012 Census data which showed that the 56,092 farms and ranches operated by 71,947 Native Americans sold a total of $3.24 billion in agriculture products. The average size of a farm or ranch operated by Native Americans is 200 percent larger than the national farm size average.
Ducheneaux said Native American farmers and ranchers are producing more than what the statistics show.
“The important thing is, the bigger your portion of the ag economy the more suited public policy should be to address your concerns and your needs,” he said.
For example, in 2009 a harsh winter in North and South Dakota hit Native producers hard. Ducheneaux and other leaders were able to convince the USDA for special assistance, but with limited data, they didn’t get what they needed.
“If we don’t have accurate numbers to prove where we’re at and what we’re doing it’s going to be hard to craft that public ag policy to fit our community,” he said.