USDA is reminding farmers and ranchers of the Feb. 3 deadline for returning their 2002 Census of Agriculture report form.

A large number of report forms have been completed and returned, according to USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), the agency responsible for conducting and producing results from the census of agriculture. But others have not.

For those who have not completed their report form yet, estimates are acceptable if records are not available. Those who are no longer operate a farm or ranch who have received a census of agriculture form should return it so they will not be contacted again.

NASS officials note that responding to the census is required by law (Title 7, U.S. Code). Delays increase the cost of the census and cause further mail and personal follow-ups.

You can get help in completing the census report form by calling the toll free number, 1-888-4AG-STAT. Those with questions about completing the form, or who have not received a form but believe they qualify as a farm or ranch, can call the toll-free number.

All information collected in the census of agriculture is kept strictly confidential by law. This 26th census will provide a detailed picture of the current status of agriculture, across the nation's 3,000 plus counties, and changes since the last census was taken five years ago.

Results from previous censuses and hundreds of current agricultural statistics may be found at www.usda.gov/nass/. By responding to the census, America's farmers and ranchers make it known — agriculture counts!

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com