If you’re looking for some interesting reading after a tough day, click on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service’s 2017 Census of Agriculture.

The census is conducted every five years and provides the most complete look, as possible, of the nation’s farms and ranches.

From a historic perspective, President George Washington wrote to farmers in 1791 requesting information on land values, crop acreages, crop yields, livestock prices and taxes.

Washington compiled the results on an area extending roughly 250 miles from north to south and 100 miles from east to west, which today lies in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia, where most of the young country’s population lived.

In effect, Washington’s inquiry was an attempt to fulfill the need for sound agricultural data for a nation that was heavily reliant on the success of agriculture.

Such informal inquiries worked while the nation was young, but were insufficient as the country expanded.

In 1839, Congress appropriated $1,000 for “carrying out agricultural investigations and procuring agricultural statistics.” The first agriculture census was taken in 1840 as part of the sixth decennial census of population.

As the country expanded and agriculture evolved, the decade between censuses became too long an interval to capture the changes in agricultural production.

After the 1920 census, the census interval was changed to every five years resulting in a separate, mid-decade census of agriculture that was conducted.

Beyond the importance of tracking the agriculture industry and its trends, the meat of the census helps us understand the diversity and impact is farming has all the way down to the county level.

It also reminds us in the middle of a straight corn/soybean/maybe wheat rotational system that there’s more to the Prairie State’s agriculture than what just appears in our neighborhood. It’s great reading and here are a few examples.

Illinois has 521 apple orchards and 314 grape vineyards. There are 173 strawberry farms and 207 tree nut farms. Two hundred twenty-seven farms produce potatoes, 20 tobacco farms and 45 aquaculture farms.

Horse and other equine production takes place on 7,411 farms and rabbit production on 142 farms. There are 1,770 apiculture farms to keep those bees busy. Eight are growing hops — cheers.

Illinois farms are noted not only for crop and animal production, but also energy. There are 1,205 farms with solar panels, 989 have wind turbines, 54 with methane digesters and 2,557 have geothermal or geoexchange systems.

Any small hydro systems? You bet, 55 farms have those, along with 431 farms with biodiesel production systems and 385 have ethanol production systems.

This is just a microscopic example of some of the amazing things that are happening in Midwest agriculture to feed and fuel the nation and beyond.

Tom C. Doran can be reached at 815-780-7894 or tdoran@agrinews-pubs.com. Follow him on Twitter at: @AgNews_Doran.

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