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The census of agriculture originated as part of the 1820 decennial census, when U.S. marshals began to ask how many people within each household were engaged in agricultural pursuits. In 1840, marshals began using separate census schedules to collect data related to agriculture.
The census of agriculture continued to be conducted during the same year as the decennial census of population until 1950. Between 1954 and 1974, the U.S. Census Bureau conducted the census of agriculture in years ending in "4" and "9."
Following the census of agriculture in 1978, the Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Agriculture decided to conduct this census in years ending in "2" and "7." (See Title 7, U.S. Code, Chapter 55.)
In 1997, Congress transferred bugetary responsibility for the census of agriculture to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Despite the shift in funding, the Census Bureau continues to design the questionnaires, mail questionnaires, manage returns, and process the data for the Department of Agriculture.
For more information:
The USDA recently released data from the 2007 Census of Agriculture. The agency continues to reimburse the Census Bureau for conducting the census of agriculture in years ending in "2" and "7."
Data from the 1840 to 1950 censuses of agriculture are available from the USDA's Historical Census Publications website.
Data from the 1960 to 1987 censuses of agriculture are primarily available in printed format from major libraries.
Data from the 1992 and 1997 censuses of agriculture are available from the Census Bureau's Agricultural Reports website.
The USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service publishes a procedural history of the census of agriculture, the most recent being the 2007 Census of Agriculture: History [PDF 29.6MB].