USDA Agricultural Survey Historical Data 1840 to 2002

Current Ag Statistics for RI and New England

New England Annual Bulletin 2020

2020 RI State Ag Profile


USDA Agricultural Survey
Historical Data 1840 to 2002

The USDA has a website where the public can search Agricultural Survey data beginning with an extensive, 572-page “Sixth census of the United States” from 1840.  As you move forward, it is at the Eighth census, in 1860, where more detailed agricultural information is available for Rhode Island.  In the introduction, linked here: 1860 Ag Census Introduction, you will see the discussion of  “manuring” of the land, not necessarily by spreading animal waste, but because fertilizing does not seem to be a term used at the time.  An incredible discussion of farm implements follows, and page 10 gives an extensive treatise on the history of the plough.  It is wise to remember that at any point in time, there exists at that moment the highest degree of knowledge and technology.  It will be surpassed daily, accumulating to incredible discoveries and inventions over the years, often amazing us at past technology and achievements with what we now consider sub-standard or antique implements and equipment.

The Rhode Island census info for 1860 shows 335,128 acres of improved farmland and 186,096 in unimproved land, for a total of 521,224 acres.  So in 1860, farms would have encompassed 79% of the approximately 660,000 acres of land in the entire state.

On the USDA Census of Agriculture Historical Archive site, there is a lot of information to be gleaned.  After you pick a year on the left side of the page, you may need to click through a few titles to get right down to RI; it may be included in New England some years.  However you will have the ability to zoom the page in a bit to find out a lot of incredible data.

The USDA Census of Agriculture Historical Archive is a collaborative project between Albert R. Mann Library at Cornell University and the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The site serves as a public archive of Census publications published prior to 2007. For Census years 2007, 2012 and 2017, please visit the USDA NASS Census of Agriculture site.