Farmers and ranchers who failed to return their 2007 Census of Agriculture paperwork still have time to respond — and if they don't, they might get a phone call.

Farmers and ranchers who failed to return their 2007 Census of Agriculture paperwork still have time to respond — and if they don't, they might get a phone call.

Less-than-stellar returns for the report on agricultural resources locally and nationally prompted U.S. Department of Agriculture officials to extend a deadline for filing required information from Feb. 4 to June 1.

Conducted every five years, the census is confidential and required by law for farmers and ranchers with $1,000 or more of agricultural products sold during the year 2007.

Data collected in the census, which polls ranchers and farmers about ranch operations, land production and values and livestock counts, is used by various organizations to plan for future services and community growth.

Phil VanBuskirk, administrator for the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center in Central Point, said the numbers provide crucial statistical data to help determine needed programs and services for the agriculture community.

When agricultural officials learned that the number of horses grew by 1,000 from 1997 to 2002, for example, they began offering programs for pasture management and mud and manure mitigation programs, said Melissa Matthewson, small farms instructor at the extension center.

The statistics also showed that despite a rise in wine grape production, tree fruits were still the county's top agriculture crop.

VanBuskirk said Jackson County's total agriculture value for 2007 was estimated at more than $82 million; $36 million of that was in tree fruits, trailed by $22 million in livestock and poultry.

"Most people probably don't think of our percentages as still being that high, but the numbers show us that agriculture is still really important to this community even though we are becoming more urbanized," VanBuskirk said.

"I think it's important all the way around because this type of report actually determines where services need to be provided and tells us where our emphasis needs to be."

Local farmers and ranchers who have not returned their census can still do so. Those who do not respond will soon receive a second request, accompanied with a letter and, eventually, a follow-up phone call.

The census information also can be submitted online, www.agcensus.usda.gov, and assistance in filling out requested information can be obtained by calling 1-888-424-7828.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.