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Alberta survey examines coming farmer shortage

There are fewer and fewer farmers and the remaining ones are getting older — so what’s it going to take to get some new blood into agriculture?


That’s the key question a study by the Agricultural Research and Extension Council of Alberta (ARECA). The group says they need to find out whether successful profess could be convinced to swap the hectic urban life for the challenges of a rural career in farming.


“The number of people farming has been steadily decreasing over time and the age of those left to carry on is increasing,” said Dee Ann Benard, executive director of ARECA.


“We need to know what it takes to attract people to the business of farming, and what kinds of tools and information they might need in order to build environmentally and economically-viable operations.”


The survey aims to determine public interest in returning to the land, and to assess what kinds of training, skills and background information people would require to do just that.


According to Statistics Canada, the country’s farm population continued to decline between 2001 and 2006 and, like the population as a whole, got older. The overall farm population dropped 6.2 per cent to 684,260 nationally and 40.7 per cent of these farm operators were aged 55 and over.


In Alberta the trend is een more pronouced , the 2006 census marked a 7.9 per cent decrease in the number of operating farms during the past five years, for a total of 49,431. Despite the decrease, Alberta has the second-largest number of farms in the country, with the largest number being in Ontario.


“Our province’s contribution to Canada’s agriculture sector is significant,” said Benard. “But if we don’t have new farmers coming into the industry — women, young professionals and new immigrants, for example — the cost of food will soar as we are forced to increase imports to meet our needs and all Canadians will feel the impact.”


ARECA is conducting the survey with a view towards creating a new program to address the training and information needs of those who might consider a career in agriculture.


Tentatively titled FarmCraft, the program will be delivered by ARECA and its member associations throughout Alberta via the internet, conferences and workshops, as well as mentoring and apprenticeships.


Anyone interested in participating in the survey should visit ARECA’s website where a link to the survey can be found on the front page.


“The more information we are able to gather through the survey, the better our program will be able to meet the needs of those seriously considering a career in farming,” said Dr. Ty Faechner, ARECA’s research program manager and the leader of the FarmCraft project.


“There are a lot of benefits to a rural career, but we want to be sure that people are well-informed and have the tools they require to make it a profitable venture before they begin.”


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