BMO finds wide concern over rural youth migration

A BMO Bank of Montreal report on the migration of young people from rural to urban areas shows a fairly broad belief among Canadians that such outflow is harming family farms.

"This concern is expressed by urban dwellers to the same extent as rural dwellers — and sometimes more," the bank said in a release Tuesday on the results of its BMO Farm Survey, conducted May 18-23 by Toronto research firm Pollara with a random sample of 1,011 Canadians.

The declining number of young farmers (under age 35) was laid out last month in Statistics Canada’s 2011 Census of Agriculture. The agency’s data showed that number dropping from 9.1 per cent in 2006 to 8.2 per cent of the total pool of farm operators in 2011, compared to 19.9 per cent two decades earlier.

Across Canada, BMO said Tuesday, 62 per cent of its survey respondents saw "a negative impact on the family farm" as demographics shift for farm operators, while 55 per cent believe the move of young people from rural to urban areas has a negative impact on the "rural way of life."

Furthermore, 61 per cent believe the migration impacts the ability of farmers to transfer knowledge to the next generation, Toronto-based BMO said.

In Alberta, by comparison, 72 per cent of respondents perceived a negative impact on the family farm, and residents in that province also saw negative consequences for the supply of labour (66 per cent), rural way of life (64 per cent), rural economy (60 per cent) and agriculture sector (56 per cent).

Surveyed residents of Atlantic Canada were next most likely to see youth migration from farms as having a negative impact on family farm operations, at 67 per cent. Atlantic Canadians also saw negative consequences on the rural way of life (66 per cent), supply of labour (65 per cent), rural economy (60 per cent) and agriculture sector (56 per cent).

In Manitoba and Saskatchewan combined, 66 per cent of those surveyed saw a negative impact on the family farm. Those residents also perceived youth migration has significant negative consequences on the transfer of knowledge to the next generation (63 per cent), supply of labour, rural economy (both 62 per cent), rural way of life (61 per cent) and agriculture sector (58 per cent).

In Quebec, the survey found 60 per cent of respondents perceive a negative impact on the family farm from youth out-migration. Quebecers also perceived "significant negative consequences" on the supply of labour (66 per cent), transfer of knowledge to the next generation, rural economy (both 58 per cent), and agriculture sector (56 per cent).

Similarly in British Columbia, 60 per cent of respondents perceived a negative impact on the family farm from youth migration. Among B.C. residents, 54 per cent also saw significant negative consequences on the supply of labour; 54 per cent also saw a negative impact on the rural way of life, while 58 per cent saw negative impacts on the rural economy and agriculture sector.

In Ontario, the perception of a negative impact on the family farm dropped to 59 per cent, but the survey saw a view of negative consequences for the transfer of knowledge to the next generation (60 per cent), the rural economy (59 per cent), rural way of life (55 per cent), supply of labour, and agriculture sector (both 53 per cent).

"Fact of life"

"For generations, young people have moved to urban centres for various personal reasons, including broadening their life experiences; that is just a fact of life," Dave Dieleman, BMO’s director of agricultural markets for B.C., said in the bank’s release.

"What this survey highlights is how important it is to have a vibrant, healthy and prosperous agriculture sector."

Agriculture, he noted, represents 8.1 per cent of Canada’s GDP and employs one in eight Canadians directly. Canadian agribusiness owners are also BMO’s single largest core commercial sector of business, the bank said.

"BMO’s study shows Canadians are sharing similar concerns and recognize the importance of the sector, and this is encouraging. Broad public support is what’s needed to secure the future of our farms and food," Canadian Federation of Agriculture president Ron Bonnett said in the bank’s release.

"It is easy enough to take agriculture for granted when you have a grocery store full of food, but to sustain this, we need young people in agriculture," he said, noting intergenerational farm transfers and building "long-term profitability" into farming operations are areas of significant focus at the CFA.

Pollara’s survey results come from online interviews with a random sample of Canadians 18 years of age and over, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

Related story:
Census logs fewer and larger farms, more crops, less beef, May 11, 2012

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