Canada saw increases in young and women farmers in its latest Census of Agriculture. Statistics Canada has released its 2016 Census of Agriculture, which counted 271,000-some farm operators, down from 293,000 during the 2011 Census. While people age 55 and over still make up the fastest-growing segment of farmers in Canada, the latest report shows slightly more producers under age 35 for the first time in five surveys. Operators under 35 years of age rose from 24,120 in 2011 to 24,850 in 2016. Women also accounted for an increasing share of operators in 2016, at 28.7 percent, up from 27.4 percent in 2011. The average area per farm increased from 779 acres in 2011 to 820 in 2016. However, Canada’s total farm area slipped 0.9 percent, from 160.2 million acres in 2011 to 158.7 million acres in 2016. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agriculture Statistics Service is in the beginning stages of the next U.S. Census of Agriculture. In 2012, the U.S. census counted 2.2 million farm operators in the United States.
From the National Association of Farm Broadcasting news service.
From: Statistics Canada
2016 Census of Agriculture
Farm operators are slightly older and there are fewer farms in Canada than in 2011, but farms are on average larger and more area is devoted to crop production according to the results from the 2016 Census of Agriculture.
Over the next six weeks, articles digging deeper into different aspects of Canadian agriculture will be published with further analysis of census results.
Agricultural data has been collected in Canada since 1666 and 2016 marks the 22nd Census of Agriculture since Confederation. The census paints a sweeping picture of the agricultural sector. It tracks changes in crops and livestock, as well as the evolution of farming practices and mechanization, from the power of horses to horsepower. Canadian farmers have continually taken advantage of technological advances to more efficiently deliver a wider variety of agricultural products to Canadians and the world.
Total number of agricultural operations, Canada, 1961 to 2016
|number of operations (thousands)|
While total farm area edged down from 2011, the area dedicated to cropland rose to 93.4 million acres in 2016. Although urbanization may reduce cropland available in some areas, a net increase in cropland is attributable to a shift in land use. Farmers have converted land formerly used as pasture, summerfallow or other less productive land into productive area. Canola remains the biggest crop, accounting for more than one-fifth of all cropland.
The number of farm operators declined from 2011 while the average age continued to rise. However, the proportion of operators under 35 years of age edged up for the first time since 1991. Despite the increase in the average age, only 1 in 12 operations reported having a formal succession plan laying out how the operation will be transferred to the next generation of farmers.
Primary agriculture accounted for 1.5% of national gross domestic product (agricultural gross domestic product) in 2013. However, this percentage rises to 4.6% when agricultural input and service providers, primary producers, food and beverage processors, agriculture food retail and wholesale industries are taken into account (Statistics Canada. 2013. Special tabulation, based on 2013 gross domestic product by industry).
Agricultural operations in Canada employed 280,315 people in 2015. From a trade perspective, agricultural goods accounted for 2.2% of Canada’s total imports and 4.6% of total exports (CANSIM table 228-0059, accessed April 13, 2017). In terms of value, almost one-third of Canadian agricultural production was exported in 2013 (CANSIMtable 381-0033,accessed April 13, 2017).
There are fewer farms, but the farms are larger
The results of the 2016 Census of Agriculture show that the agriculture industry continues to consolidate. There were 193,492 farms counted in 2016, down 5.9% from the previous census in 2011. However, this was the lowest rate of decline in 20 years.
While farm numbers have declined, the average area per farm increased from 779 acres in 2011 to an average of 820 acres in 2016.
The area dedicated to cropland rose 6.9% from 2011 to 93.4 million acres (Chart 2) in 2016, as land that was flooded during the 2011 Census was brought back into production, use of summerfallow decreased and marginal land was converted into productive cropland.
Total farm area and cropland area, Canada, 1921 to 2016
|Total farm area||Cropland|
Younger operators and women make up a larger share of farmers
The 2016 Census of Agriculture counted 271,935 farm operators on agricultural operations, down from 293,925 in 2011. Farm operators under 35 years of age accounted for an increasing share of total operators and their absolute numbers also rose—from 24,120 in 2011 to 24,850 in 2016. This was the first absolute increase in this category of operators since 1991.
However, the fastest growing age group was farm operators aged 55 years and older (Table 1). The average age of operators—individuals who make management decisions for the agricultural enterprise—edged up from 54.0 years in 2011 to 55.0 years in 2016. This trend parallels the ageing of the general population. Among Canadians aged 15 to 64, the share of people aged 55 to 64 years old (all baby boomers) reached a record high 21.0% in 2016 (Statistics Canada. 2017. Recent trends for the population aged 15 to 64 in Canada. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. , accessed May 3, 2017). 98-200-X2016003
Women account for an increasing share of farm operators, rising from 27.4% in 2011 to 28.7% in 2016. In the 2016 Census of Agriculture, 77,970 women were listed as farm operators. Women were most prevalent among farm operators aged 35 to 54 years (30.7%), followed by those aged 55 and older (27.7%) and those under 35 years of age (26.4%).
Many farm operators also do off-farm work
The 2016 Census of Agriculture found that 44.4% of all farm operators did some off-farm work, usually as a means of supplementing their total income. Just over 3 in 10 (30.2%) operators worked an average of 30 hours a week or more off the farm.
British Columbia had the highest incidence of off-farm work, as well as the highest proportion of farms with total sales under $10,000. Just over half (51.1%) of farm operators in British Columbia reported receiving a wage or salary from another job or operating a business unrelated to the farm.
Corporations more likely to have succession plans
The transfer of agricultural assets as farmers transition out of the sector can happen in a number of ways. Farm assets can be sold in whole or in part and the buyer can be a new entrant or someone looking to expand their existing operation. Farm operations can also be transferred to other parties via a will or written succession plan.
In 2016, 8.4% of farms nationally reported having a written succession plan. Among sole proprietorships, 4.9% had a written succession plan compared with 16.3% of family and non-family corporations.
Just over half (51.7%) of all Canadian farms were sole proprietorships in 2016. Partnerships accounted for 22.9% of farms, while 22.5% were family corporations and 2.7% were non-family corporations. The rate of incorporation among farm operations rose from 19.8% in 2011 to 25.1% in 2016.
More oilseed and grain-type farms
Oilseed and grain-type farms remain the most common type of farm, increasing from 30.0% in 2011 to 32.9% in 2016 (Chart 3). In the Prairie provinces, 46.3% of farms fell into this farm type.
Beef-type farms remain the second most common farm type, accounting for 18.6% of agricultural operations, up slightly from 18.2% in 2011.
Number of agricultural operations by operation type, Canada, 2016
|number of operations|
|Oilseed and grain||63,628|
|Fruit and tree nut||7,845|
|Greenhouse and nursery||6,449|
|Vegetable and melon||5,514|
|Poultry and egg||4,903|
|Hog and pig||3,305|
|Sheep and goat||3,056|
Prairie farmers drive gains in field crop area
Total farm area decreased 0.9% from 160.2 million acres in 2011 to 158.7 million acres in 2016. Shifts in tenure were responsible for some of this decline, as rental agreements tend to cover only productive land. The area of cropland increased as farmers cleared, drained and upgraded marginal lands to support crop production, shifted practices to reduce the need for summerfallow, and returned land which had been flooded in 2011 back into production. While cropland grew, woodlands and wetlands as well as pasture decreased.
Farm size varied considerably based on region and farm type. The largest operations on average were found in Saskatchewan (1,784 acres), while the smallest on average were located in Newfoundland and Labrador (174 acres).
Field crop area grew from 69.7 million acres in 2011 to 78.5 million acres in 2016, largely driven by increases in the Prairie provinces. In Manitoba and Saskatchewan, the return of cropland, which had been reported as idle in the last census due to flooding, contributed to the rise in field crop area. Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick were the only provinces to report a decrease in field crop area from 2011 to 2016.
The area of hay and alfalfa cropland declined 16.6% (-2.8 million acres), while the area of pasture decreased 4.4% (-2.2 million acres), due in part to a smaller beef herd. Some of the hay and pasture land was converted to field crop production.