Canada’s latest Census of Agriculture charts an evolution in Canadian farming that will surprise no one in the sector: fewer, larger farms operated largely by Boomers.
The 2011 census, released Thursday, counts 205,730 census farms in Canada, down 10.3 per cent from the previous census in 2006, operated by 293,925 census farmers, down 10.1 per cent. The decline was above-average in the three Prairie provinces and Prince Edward Island; only in Nova Scotia did the number of farms increase (up 2.9 per cent).
The average size of Canada’s farms rose 6.9 per cent to 778 acres, Statistics Canada said in a release. Saskatchewan booked the largest increase in average farm size (up 15.1 per cent) and had the largest average farm size at 1,668 acres.
What’s more, "crop production and beef farming have long been the backbone of Canadian agriculture, but the gap between the two has widened," the federal agency observed.
Grain and oilseed farms now make up 30 per cent of the total, compared to beef farms at 18.2 per cent. In 2006, that spread sat at 26.9 per cent grains and oilseeds, 26.6 per cent beef.
The impact of the post-Second World War baby boom generation (born from 1946 to about 1965) on Canada’s farm sector also became more pronounced in the 2011 census, StatsCan observed.
For the first time, StatsCan said, the 55-and-over age group represented the largest share of total operators, at 48.3 per cent in 2011 compared with 40.7 per cent in 2006 and 32.1 per cent in 1991.
Young farmers’ (under age 35) share of the pool of total operators also shrunk between 2006 and 2011, from 9.1 per cent to 8.2 per cent of the total, where that group formed 19.9 per cent of the total two decades earlier, StatsCan said. The 35-54 age bracket, meanwhile, accounted for 43.5 per cent of farmers in 2011, down from 50.2 per cent in 2006.
Quebec remained the province with the youngest farmers at an average age of 51.4, compared to B.C. with the oldest farmers at an average age of 55.7, and the national average of 54 (up from 52 in 2006).
The 2011 census reported total Canadian gross farm receipts of $51.1 billion in 2010, up 3.9 per cent at 2010-constant prices compared to 2005. Grain and oilseed farms booked $18.2 billion in gross farm receipts in 2010, up 49.5 per cent from 2005. Beef farms took in $7.3 billion in gross farm receipts in 2010.
Farms with $500,000 and over in gross farm receipts in 2010 accounted for 11.5 per cent of all farms and 67.9 per cent of the total gross farm receipts in Canada. In the 2006 census, they represented 8.6 per cent of farms and 60.1 per cent of the gross receipts.
Canada in 2011 had 9,602 farms that reported $1 million or more in 2010 gross farm receipts, up 31.2 per cent from 2006. That group formed 4.7 per cent of all farms and took in 49.1 per cent of receipts, up from 3.2 per cent and 42.8 per cent respectively in the previous census.
Spring wheat in 2011 officially lost its title to canola as Canada’s top field crop, with canola acres logged at 19.4 million, up 55.9 per cent from 2006. Spring wheat acres dropped 10 per cent to 16.9 million acres.
No-till acres in the 2011 census also rose by 23.8 per cent to over half of all acres prepared for seeding across Canada, with 17.1 per cent more farms reporting the use of no-till compared to 2006.
A total of 1.9 million acres were reported as irrigated for 2010, down 8.9 per cent from 2005, due largely to above-average precipitation in several regions in 2010.
Certified organic operations also rose to 3,713 in 2011, up 4.4 per cent from 2006 and representing 1.8 per cent of all farms in Canada, compared to 1.5 per cent in 2006.
Most of Canada’s acres (61.5 per cent) in 2011 were still owned by their operators, though owned land as a proportion of total farm area has dropped steadily through every census since 1976. Rented acres sat at 36.8 million in 2011, up from 34.1 million in 2006.
A majority of Canadian farm operators did not work off the farm, with 46.9 per cent having off-farm jobs in 2010 compared to 48.4 per cent in 2005. Just over 40 per cent of farmers worked over 40 hours a week on the farm in 2010, down from 46.7 per cent in 2005.
The 2011 census also recorded 297,683 paid farm employees, of whom 37.6 per cent worked year-round, whether full- or part-time. The paid labour was spread across 34 per cent of farms, with Ontario taking 28.5 per cent of the total farm employees, followed by Quebec and B.C.
The percentage of farms using the internet for farm business rose from 34.9 per cent in 2006 to 55.6 per cent in 2011, although just 44.8 per cent of farms reported having access to high-speed internet in 2011, compared to three-quarters of all households nationally in 2010 as per the Canadian Internet Use Survey.
Canada logged 114,006 farms operating as sole proprietorships in 2011, down 12.9 per cent since 2006, while 40,714 farms operated as family or non-family corporations, up 11.2 per cent.
StatsCan says farm population older, with fewer immigrants, Dec. 2, 2008
Field crops lead Canada’s organic offerings: StatsCan, March 28, 2008