This month, BEEF magazine kicks off a series of pullout spreads depicting cattle data from the latest U.S. Census of Agriculture released in February 2009. On the following two-page spread, you'll see a map of the Lower 48 states with the number of beef cows in inventory depicted by county. On the back of the map, you'll find the top 500 counties for beef cows ranked from one to 500.

Over the coming months, BEEF magazine will continue with similar representations — by county — on fed cattle sold, beef cattle receipts, stocker cattle, etc. We hope these will provide you with both an interesting depiction of the scope of your national and local business, and a valuable reference piece for your office wall or business file.

The U.S. Census of Agriculture is conducted every five years and is designed as a complete count of U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them. The census looks at land use and ownership, operator characteristics, production practices, income and expenditures and many other areas.

In fact, this census provides the only source of uniform, comprehensive agricultural data for every county in the nation, but the published data isn't always complete. For reasons of privacy, data for some counties with a small number of producers is omitted. In fact, of the data depicted on the following pages, information on 750 (24%) out of the total of 3,141 counties was not released by USDA, says BEEF research manager Scott Grau.

“By using proprietary methods, we can arrive at a more complete and accurate picture than that provided publicly by USDA, and that's what we've done in these cases,” Grau says.

Obviously, the states of Alaska and Hawaii are not depicted on the accompanying representation of the Lower 48. Alaska and Hawaii are not included owing to their overall small numbers of beef cows in inventory. However, Hawaii's Big Island does occupy 16th place in the list with 64,183 head of cattle.

For the record, the 2007 census counted 2,204,792 farms in the U.S., with a continuing trend toward more small and very large farms and fewer mid-sized operations. Between 2002 and 2007, the number of farms with sales of less than $2,500 increased by 74,000. The number of farms with sales of more than $500,000 grew by 46,000 during the same period.

Census results show that the majority of U.S. farms are smaller operations. In fact, more than 36% are classified as residential/lifestyle farms, with sales of less than $250,000 and operators with a primary occupation other than farming. Another 21% are retirement farms, which have sales of less than $250,000 and operators who reported they are retired.

The 2007 census found that 57% of all farmers have Internet access, up from 50% in 2002. For the first time, the census also looked at high-speed Internet access. Of those producers accessing the Internet, 58% reported having a high-speed connection.

Interestingly, in BEEF magazine's 2008 Reader Profile Survey, a mail survey conducted Jan. 4 through July 14, 2008, a total of 43.7% of respondents reported using the Internet in their farm operation, and 63% of those utilized a high-speed Internet service.

Census of Agriculture data is available through the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) field office in your state, many depository libraries, universities and state government offices. Or find it online at www.nass.usda.gov or www.agcensus.usda.gov. You can also call 800-727-9540.

View the BEEF Cow-Calf map!