Again with the numbers.

Some of us were born to work with words; others are natural number crunchers. (I envy those who can quickly calculate the tip on lunch service without counting on their fingers.) It’s fascinating, though, when the numbers represent the kind of information that you can put to good use.

As you’ll read on page 20, the USDA’s Census of Horticultural Specialties – a massive study conducted every 10 years – reveals some pretty interesting figures. Like most collections of statistics, it can be a little intimidating to tackle, and trying to decipher what all those numbers really mean tends to send one running for yet another Diet Coke.

Remember those grade-school math puzzles, where you’re presented with a story: “If a train carrying 150 people leaves Albuquerque at 8:30 a.m. and travels east at 40 miles per hour, and another train carrying 216 people leaves Dallas at 9:42 a.m., traveling west at 55 miles per hour, how many of the passengers are wearing hats?” Yeah, it’s like that.

Still, once you dig a little deeper into the actual breakout tables, you begin to realize that these are numbers we can really use. How, you ask? Well, aside from annoying your children into leaving you alone, or dazzling your neighbors at block parties, we can think of at least a couple of legitimate – and quite valuable – business applications.

No. 1: This being an election year, it’s understandable that the mention of political topics can be cringe-inducing. But consider the facts presented in the Census when you communicate with your local candidates. Does your senator or state rep understand the economic clout of commercial hort?

Say you’re faced with water restrictions: You can use these figures to demonstrate that commercial horticulture businesses contribute X number of dollars to the local or state economy. Immigration concerns? Pull out the numbers on Table 33, and show how many seasonal workers are hired, and by how many operations.

No. 2: Who doesn’t need marketing support? Imagine your customer’s delight when she sees a sign that reads, “Did you know? Idaho is home to 105 conifer growers!” Or “Grasses are great! Last year, Oklahoma growers sold 1,081,044 ornamental grass plants!”

Okay, I know. Your marketing department can come up with something a bit catchier, but you get the idea.

This Census document is not just something to help government geeks justify their jobs. It’s not a case of government overreach, a nosy and intrusive attempt to pry into your business. It helps. Really, it offers a wealth of information that provides unparalleled perspective on this industry. We’ve presented just the tip of the iceberg, and you can find so much more when you visit http://www.agcensus.usda.gov. Tap into it; analyze it; share it.

Use it.