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Alberta's farm population: changes over a lifetime

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Alberta's farm population continued its steady decline in numbers, dropping by 6.5% since 2001 to 155,095.

In 1931, when the farm population count in Alberta was compiled for the first time, 375,097 people were living on a farm—51.3% of Alberta's population. By 2006, the farm population accounted for only 4.7% the province. In less than one lifetime, Alberta has moved from 1 in 2 inhabitants living on a farm to 1 in 21. At the same time, Alberta's total population has grown from 731,605 in 1931 to 3,290,350 in 2006.

Early in the last century, farmers in the province worked on a large number of small farms. In 1931 there were 97,408 farms, with an average of 400 acres per farm. By 2006, the number had decreased to 49,431 farms, with an average of 1,055 acres per farm. However, the total farm area in Alberta had increased from 39.0 million acres in 1931 to 52.1 million acres in 2006.

Age of Alberta's farm population

Alberta has an aging population, and the story is no different for Alberta's farm population. Those aged 65 and older made up 11.3% of the province's farm population, up from 5.4% in 1971. Those 65 and over in 2006 made up slightly less of the province's general population, at 10.7%.

Language profile of Alberta's farm population

Of Alberta's entire farm population in 2006, 78.9% reported English as their mother tongue, 1.8% reported French, and the remainder (19.3%) reported a mother tongue other than English or French. Of those who reported another language, the largest group was German followed by Dutch. The profile for the province's general population in 2006 was similar, with 80.2% reporting English as their mother tongue, 2.1% reporting French, and the remaining 17.7% citing another language. Of the other languages spoken by the province's general population, the Chinese languages were the largest group, followed by German and then Punjabi.

Place of birth of Alberta's farm population

The 2006 Census of Population counted 8,800 immigrants in Alberta's farm population or 5.7% of the total provincial farm population. In 1971, immigrants made up 11.9% of the province's farm population. Conversely, immigrants made up 16.2% of the province's general population in 2006, down from 17.3% in 1971.

The Dutch were a significant proportion (27.3%) of Alberta's immigrant farm population, but made up only 3.2% of immigrants in the province's general population. About 14% of the province's immigrant farm population was from the United States., compared to about 5% of immigrants in the province's general population. The third most common place of birth for Alberta's immigrant farm population was the United Kingdom at 13.0%, compared to 11.4% in the province's general population.

Alberta's farm family finances

The total income of a census family is the sum of all incomes received during the calendar year preceding the census by all members of that family aged 15 years of age and over. Income includes wages and salaries, net farm income, net non-farm self-employment income, government transfer payments, investment income, retirement pensions and other money income.

In 2006, 7,535 Alberta farm families were involved in an incorporated farm. This is considerably less than the 37,660 Alberta farm families involved in an unincorporated farm in 2006, down 9.7% from 41,730 families in 2001.

The median total income for Alberta farm families on unincorporated farms in 2005 was $61,942, compared to $73,816 received by census families in the province's general population.

Education of Alberta farm operators

In 2006, 9.3% of Alberta farm operators had university degrees (bachelor level and above) up from 8.2% in 2001. Comparatively, approximately 20% of the province's total labour force fell into this category.

Proportionally more Alberta farm operators reported apprenticeship or trades certificates or diplomas than the labour force (15.3% compared with 11.6%). This preference may well be the result of a number of factors, including time required away from the farm, and the preference for the more practical approach of college courses on animal care and field-cropping techniques.

What Alberta's farm operators do

In the 2006 Census, about 50% of Alberta farm operators reported their main occupation as non-agricultural. This increased from 43.3% since 2001 and suggests that more operators are working off the farm. A higher proportion of female operators in the province reported a non-agricultural occupation than males (62.9% versus 44.4%).

Among the non-agricultural occupations, the top occupation for Alberta's male operators was transportation equipment operators and related workers, excluding labourers, while for women operators, clerical occupations were predominantly reported.