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The need for agricultural statistics has long been recognized. The Federal government took a census of agriculture every 10·years from 1840 to 1920 and every 5 years from 1925 through 1974. Until 1950, the government took the censuses of population, housing, and agriculture together in years ending in "0."

From 1954 to 1974, the Bureau took a census of agriculture for the years ending in "4" and "9." In 1976, Congress authorized a census of agriculture for 1978 and 1982 and for years ending in "2" and "7" after that. This made the agriculture census coincide with the economic censuses covering manufacturing, mining, construction, retail trade, wholesale trade, service industries, and selected transportation activities.

The 1969, 1974, 1982, and 1987 censuses were taken by mail; most earlier censuses were conducted by personal interview. (The 1978 census was taken by a combination of both.) The 1982 and 1987 censuses used regional report forms, with regions based on the main crops raised in each group of States.

The 1997 Census of Agriculture was the first census conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). This agency continues to reimburse the Census Bureau for conducting the census of agriculture in years ending in "2" and "7."

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