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New Mexico Minority Producers Severely Undercounted in Agricultural Census

ALBUQUERQUE - New Mexico is the only state in the nation where the U.S. Department of Agriculture will conduct a follow-up survey of Native American- and Hispanic-operated farms because of severe undercounting in the 2002 agricultural census.



Edmund Gomez, a member of the national Advisory Committee on Agricultural Statistics, says New Mexico is the only state in the nation where the U.S. Department of Agriculture will do a follow-up survey of Native American- and Hispanic-operated farms because of severe undercounting in the 2002 agricultural census. Gomez, who directs NMSU's Rural Agricultural Improvement and Public Affairs Project, says there are at least 7,500 Native American-operated farms and ranches on New Mexico reservations, but the 2002 census only reported 430 American Indian producers. (03/26/2004) (NMSU Agricultural Communications Photo by J. Victor Espinoza)

The national Advisory Committee on Agricultural Statistics recommended in February that the USDA order a follow-up survey of American Indian and other minority producers in New Mexico because the 2002 census excludes thousands of minority farmers and ranchers, said Edmund Gomez, who was appointed by Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman last year to serve on the committee.

"There are at least 7,500 individual farms and ranches on New Mexico reservations, but the 2002 census only reports 430 Indian farms," said Gomez, who directs New Mexico State University's Rural Agricultural Improvement and Public Affairs Project (RAIPAP), based in Alcalde. "The National Agricultural Statistics Service is grossly undercounting the number of tribal producers, and possibly the number of Hispanic growers as well."

Consequently, New Mexico agricultural agents and administrators are concerned that the state may be losing USDA assistance, because funding is often calculated on the basis of farm population estimates, said Steven Loring, administrative analyst for NMSU's Agricultural Experiment Station.

"If our farm population is undercounted, then we're concerned that maybe we're not getting all the money we're entitled to," Loring said.

Rich Allen, NASS deputy administrator for programs and projects in Washington, D.C., said he will ask the state statistician to compile more accurate statistics.

"We don't have perfect census results in all the agricultural states, but they're fairly accurate," Allen said. "New Mexico is one place we still need to work on to compile all the demographic information needed for farmers in the state."

NASS conducts the agricultural census every five years, tallying the number, size and type of farms in each state and compiling demographic data on producers. However, most Native American producers have never been counted in the census, because prior to 1990, Indian reservations were considered collective land that the USDA regarded as just one big farm, Gomez said. But after passage of the 1990 farm bill, individual producers on reservations became eligible for all USDA programs.

"All tribal farms and ranches now need to be counted in the census, but that hasn't happened because the state statistician's office is not conducting direct surveys on the reservations," Gomez said. "As a result, the 1997 census only reported 412 Native American farms, and the 2002 census reports just 18 new ones."

NMSU has compiled a list of 3,000 Indian producers on 17 New Mexico pueblos since 2001, when RAIPAP launched the Northern New Mexico Outreach Project to develop a comprehensive database of Native American producers and educate them about assistance programs, Gomez said. RAIPAP staff expect to count another 600 individual farms and ranches at those pueblos.

In addition, Gomez estimates another 4,000 producers at reservations outside the outreach project, including about 3,000 farmers and ranchers on the Navajo Nation.

"The USDA defines a farm as any operation that produces $1,000 or more in agricultural products," Gomez said. "Under that definition, almost every family that lives on the Navajo reservation is guaranteed to be a producer, because you need just two or three cows, or maybe 10 head of sheep, to be eligible for USDA assistance."

New Mexico State Statistician Dwaine Nelson said his office does not conduct direct surveys on the reservations, but rather provides census forms to tribal administrators or offices to conduct their own count.

Tribal governments reported about 2,500 individual farms and ranches in 2002, Nelson said. But NASS didn't include those producers in the census estimate of 15,231 farms in New Mexico because it didn't have demographic information on the producers, Nelson said. Instead, the tribal estimates are reported in an appendix to the census.

Gomez said that discriminates against Native Americans. "If NASS knows of 2,500 reservation producers, they should send each one a census form instead of just dropping off a stack of surveys at the tribal administration office," Gomez said. "It's the equivalent of taking survey forms to a county manager and asking him to conduct the census for that county. Why are we treating Native American producers differently from people outside the reservations?"

Gomez also questions census estimates of 6,247 Hispanic farm operators, since that equals about 27 percent of total farm operators in a state where Hispanics make up 42 percent of the population.

Given the concerns about undercounting, the national Advisory Committee on Agricultural Statistics recommended that NASS direct the state statistician to form a working group to carry out a follow-up survey of New Mexico minority producers by December 2005. The working group would include NMSU, the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, the Farm Service Agency and the Natural Resource Conservation Service, Rich Allen said.

"We want the state statistician to pull everyone together for this so we can get the most accurate picture possible of agriculture in New Mexico," Allen said.