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The newest data from the Agriculture-Population Linkage Database for 2006 provide a socio-economic profile of Canada's farm population, farm operators and their families.
The Agriculture-Population linkage was first carried out in 1971, and subsequently in all census years except 1976. The linkages combine data from the Census of Agriculture with data from the Census of Population. The result is a rich socio-economic information base that allows in-depth analysis of the farm population, defined as all persons living on farms in households with a farm operator. Delving further into this database provides the opportunity to discuss farm families and analyze how Canada's farm census families1 were faring at the time of the last census and over time. It is also a means to compare them to families in the general population. In order to be a farm census family, at least one family member must be a farm operator. Examining the farm operator population allows comparison to other Canadians in the labour force who are self-employed.
Canada's farm population continued its steady decline in numbers, dropping by 6.2% since 2001 to 684,260.
In 1931, when the farm population count was compiled for the first time, 3,289,140 people were living on a farm-31.7% of the Canadian population. By 2006, the farm population accounted for only 2.2% of all Canadians. In less than one lifetime Canada has moved from 1 in 3 Canadians living on a farm to 1 in 46. At the same time, Canada's total population tripled from 10,363,240 in 1931 to 31,511,590 in 2006.
Early in the last century, Canadian farmers worked on a large number of small farms. In 1931, there were 728,623 farms, with an average of 224 acres per farm. By 2006, the number had decreased to 229,373 farms, with an average of 728 acres per farm. However, the total farm area in Canada had increased slightly, from 163.1 million acres in 1931 to 167.0 million acres in 2006.
Not only were farms larger by 2006, but farms reported significantly more cattle, pigs and poultry, and planted more area to crops. The number of cattle and hens and chickens doubled while the number of pigs tripled over this 75-year period. Field crops also exemplify this trend; for example, farms reporting corn had an average of six acres of corn in 1931, whereas in 2006 they averaged 128 acres in corn. Over time, farms have moved from growing food largely for themselves and local markets, to producing for large urban areas and for export.
Much of the farm transportation and field work that had been carried out by horses in the 1930s is now accomplished by machinery. In 1931, 80% of farms had horses, while in 2006 only 24% of farms reported horses. Today, horses are rarely used for farm work and farmers depend heavily on tractors. In 1931, 13% of farms reported tractors compared with 92% in 2006.
A number of factors from the 1930s through the 1950s influenced farm numbers. The stock market crash in 1928 was followed closely by the massive drought that lasted from 1929 to 1937. The Great Depression wreaked havoc on the employment situation of many Canadians.
The total number of census farms in Canada began to decline with the coming of the Second World War, followed by the increasing urbanization of the 1950s. The biggest 5-year decrease on record was from 1956 to 1961, when the number of farms fell by 16.4%-a loss of more than 94,000 farms.
The rural population is often confused with the farm population; in fact, it was this confusion that instigated the first compilation of the farm population in the 1931 Census.
"In the minds of many, the term "rural population" was often confused with farm population and no statistics were available to show the number of persons living outside of cities, towns and villages, but working in urban centres or at occupations other than farming." (1931 Census, Volume 1, page 331)
While it was true a lifetime ago that most of Canada's rural population was in fact farming, the story is very different today.
The urban population in Canada surpassed the rural population for the first time in 1931. Subsequently, since the Second World War, Canada's rural population has remained relatively stable at 5 million to 7.5 million inhabitants.
In 1931, 46.2% of Canada's total population lived in rural areas, with most of this rural population (67.3%) involved in farming. In 2006, although 19.7% of the total Canadian population lived in rural areas, the overwhelming majority (about 90%) of the rural population was not on farms.
The percentage of the rural population that lived on farms in 2006 varied provincially, from 31.0% in Saskatchewan to 0.4% in Newfoundland and Labrador. In 1931, the percentage of the rural population living on farms was also highest in Saskatchewan, at 89.0% of the rural population, but was lowest in British Columbia, at 33.5%.
Canada has an aging population and the story is no different for the farm population. In 2006, those aged 65 and older made up 11.2% of the farm population, up from 6.1% in 1971. Those 65 and over in 2006 made up slightly more of the general population, at 13.7%. The percentage of the farm population that was 65 and older ranged from a low of 7.2% in Quebec to a high of 13.5% in British Columbia.
Of the entire farm population in 2006, 479,740 (70.1%) reported English as their mother tongue, 97,970 (14.3%) reported French, and the remainder (15.6%) 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 general population in 2006 differed, with 57.8% reporting English as their mother tongue, 22.1% reporting French, and the remaining 20.1% citing another language. Of the other languages spoken by the general population, the Chinese languages were the largest group, followed by Italian, German and then Punjabi.
English was the dominant mother tongue reported by the farm population in all provinces except Quebec, where the predominant language was French (90.8%). But the second most common language varied more across the country. It was French in New Brunswick but Dutch in Prince Edward Island. In Nova Scotia, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta the second most common mother tongue was German, in Quebec it was English, and in British Columbia it was Punjabi.
Canada was founded on agriculture and many of our predecessors came from abroad to establish their place in Canada's agricultural history. Immigrants (defined as persons who are or who have ever been a landed immigrant) make up a declining proportion of Canada's farm population, counter to the trend in the general population.
The 2006 Census of Population counted 47,155 immigrants in the farm population or 6.9% of Canada's total farm population. In 1971, immigrants made up 8.5% of the farm population. Conversely, immigrants made up 19.8% of the general population in 2006, up from 15.3% in 1971.
In the general population, the proportion of immigrants born in Asia and the Middle East surpassed the proportion born in Europe for the first time in 2006. However, the place of birth for the majority of the immigrant farm population continued to be Europe, and almost 40% of this population immigrated before 1966.
In 2006, those born in the Netherlands made up one-fifth of the immigrant farm population, compared with less than 2% of immigrants in the general population. The second most common place of birth was the United Kingdom at 13.9% of the immigration farm population, compared to 9.4% of immigrants in the general population. The third most common place of birth for the immigrant farm population was the United States at 11.3%, compared to 4.0% in the general population.
In 2001, the top three places of birth for the immigrant farm population were the Netherlands (21.2%), the United Kingdom (14.1%), and the United States (13.1%).
Ontario had the largest share of Canada's immigrant farm population, at 35.6% of the national total. Of Ontario's immigrant farm population, 30.0% reported the Netherlands as their place of birth, followed by the United Kingdom and Germany.
British Columbia followed Ontario, with 25.6% of Canada's immigrant farm population. Of British Columbia's immigrant farm population, 21.1% reported India as their place of birth, followed by the United States and then the United Kingdom.
Alberta came third, with 18.7% of the immigrant farm population. Most of Alberta's immigrant farm population was born in the Netherlands (27.3%), followed by the United States (13.6%), and then the United Kingdom (13.0%).
Quebec, with 5.7% of the immigrant farm population, is unique among the provinces with Switzerland being the top place of birth (32.0%) of the immigrant farm population. This was followed by France (13.6%) and then Belgium (9.0%).
In total, 175,810 farm families were on unincorporated farms, of which slightly more than one-quarter were located in Ontario. Approximately 39,265 farm families were on incorporated farms in Canada in 2006.
The following section deals with census families on unincorporated farms. Using data only for census families on unincorporated farms allows us to analyze total income of farm census families and the relative importance of all components of total income. Census families on incorporated farms are excluded since they are more likely to report their income from the farm as wages and salaries or dividend earnings ("other employment income" or "other sources of income") rather than as net farm income.
Farm families are getting smaller, similar to the trend in the general population. In 1971, the average size of a farm family was 4.3 persons, however, by 2006, this had declined to 3.1. Over the same period, the average family size in the general population declined from 3.7 to 2.9.
To capture the characteristics unique to certain groups of unincorporated farms, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) has categorized families on farms based on the operator's age, farm receipts class and their level of production, specialization, participation and dependence on net farm income. The categories are:
Retirement—families on farms managed by an operator 60 years of age or older receiving pension income with no children responsible for the management decisions of the farm. These families are still producing net farm income even after reaching retirement age.
Lifestyle—families on small farms (those with gross farm receipts under $50,000) with off-farm income more than $50,0002. This category excludes retirement farms.
Low-income—families on small and medium farms with gross farm receipts under $100,000, and a total income less than $26,580. This category excludes retirement and lifestyle farms.
Business-focused—includes all other families on unincorporated farms, based on gross farm receipts. This varies from the AAFC typologies in that it splits the business-focused farms into two groups:
Business-focused farm families accounted for a total of 40% of all farm families—29% (51,735) on small to medium business-focused farms and 11% (18,725) on large to very large business-focused farms. The province with the lowest percentage of families on small to medium business-focused farms was Newfoundland and Labrador (20%), while Saskatchewan had the highest (36%). Families in the large to very large category ranged from a low of 4% in Newfoundland and Labrador to a high of 18% in Prince Edward Island. These large to very large business-focused farm families accounted for a total of 16% of farm families in Quebec and 14% of farm families in Manitoba.
In 2006, 29% (51,415) of farm families were on farms classified as retirement, ranging provincially from a low of 25% in Quebec to a high of 35% in Nova Scotia. The number of families on retirement farms is increasing as the farm population ages. In 2001, 20% of farm families were on retirement farms.
Approximately 25% (43,730) of all farm families were on farms classified as lifestyle farms in 2006. This ranged from a low of 18% in Quebec to a high of 36% in British Columbia. In 2001, 24% of farm families were on lifestyle farms.
Farm families on farms classified as low-income accounted for 6% (10,200) of all farm families. This remained unchanged from 2001, and ranged from a low of 5% in Alberta to a high of 11% in Newfoundland and Labrador.
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.
The analysis of total income focuses on those families involved in an unincorporated farm. In 2006, 175,810 farm families were involved in an unincorporated farm, down 9.5% from 194,230 families in 2001.
The median total income for farm families on unincorporated farms in 2005 was $56,412, compared to $63,846 received by census families in the general population.
In 2005, 86 cents in operating expenses were spent on farms for every dollar in receipts from agricultural products, compared to 87 cents in 2000. This value, however, varies greatly depending on farm typology, and was heavily influenced by the large to very large business-focused farms, which accounted for 55% of all receipts but only 14% of farms. These large to very large business-focused farms spent 84 cents in operating expenses for every dollar in receipts from agricultural products. At the opposite end of the spectrum were lifestyle farms, which spent $1.42 for every dollar in gross farm receipts, and low-income farms, which spent $1.07.
For all farm families on unincorporated farms, the largest source of income in 2005 was wages and salaries, at 62.2% of total income received. This was followed by income from government (10.6%), investment income (7.1%), net farm income (6.3%), net non-farm self-employment income (5.7%), non-government retirement pensions (5.3%), and other income (2.8%). (Income from government includes child benefits, Canada Pension and Quebec Pension Plans, Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement, and Employment Insurance benefits.)
It is important to note that not all farm family income originating from a farming operation is net farm income. In fact, income reported as wages and salaries and as investment income may have come from the farm. For information on comparisons with net farm income prior to 2006, please see reference document.
The range in farming circumstances is as vast as the range of farm types and sizes and using averages for all farms can obscure these differences. Classifying farms by AAFC typology can bring them into focus.
The median total family income for farm families on unincorporated small to medium business-focused farms was $47,470 and $57,538 for large to very large business-focused farm families. In both categories the major contributor to total income was wages and salaries, at 62.4% of total income for small to medium business-focused farms and 44.9% for large to very large business-focused farms. Net farm income was the second largest source of income in both cases, at 14.4% for the small-to-medium group and 33.0% for the large-to-very-large group (with $250,000 and over in gross farm receipts).
Farms classed as retirement farms had a median total family income in 2005 of $47,473, varying from a low of $40,137 in Manitoba to a high of $56,590 in Newfoundland and Labrador. The major contributor to total income was wages and salaries (at 30.1% of total income), followed closely by income from government (25.9%) and non-government retirement pensions (21.1%). Net farm income for this group contributed 3.3% of family income.
The median total family income for farm families classified as living on lifestyle farms was $86,373, with provincial variations ranging from a low of $68,979 in Prince Edward Island to a high of $93,590 in Alberta. (Non-farm family income must be more than $50,000 to be included as a lifestyle farm.) Wages and salaries (87.9%) was the largest component of total income for these farm families, followed by net non-farm self-employment income (6.3%). Families on lifestyle farms had a negative net farm income amounting to 3.7% of total family income.
For farm families on low-income farms the median total income in 2005 was $17,089; the lowest was in British Columbia ($15,021) and the highest was in Manitoba ($18,382). For this group of farm families the major contributor to total income was also wages and salaries (65.0% of total income), followed by income from government (38.8%). Families on low-income farms had a negative net farm income amounting to 29.4% of total family income.
Wages and salaries were the biggest component of income for almost all families on unincorporated farm types3 , with the exception of dairy farms, which had net farm income as their primary component. Two farm types reported less than 50% of their total income from wages and salaries: dairy farms and hog and pig farms. The highest median total income was for families on greenhouse, nursery and floriculture farms ($65,172), while the lowest was for families on hog and pig farms with a median total income of $48,212.
A farm operator refers to a person responsible for the management decisions made in operating a census farm. In 2006, there were 327,055 farm operators across Canada, down 5.5% since 2001. These operators were on both unincorporated and incorporated farms, and these farms may have had more than one operator. In 2006, 40.7% of farm operators were aged 55 and over; of those self-employed in the labour force, this age group accounted for 28.8%.
In 2006, 9.1% of all farm operators were under the age of 35, while individuals in that age group accounted for 34.0% of those self-employed in the labour force.
Farmers and farm managers had the highest median age of all occupations in the country. The median age of all farm operators was 51.0 years, while the median age of the labour force was 41.2 years.
For the most part, immigrant farmers, like all farm operators, are an aging group: in fact, their median age of 56 is five years higher than non-immigrant farm operators. East Indian and Swiss immigrant farmers were comparatively younger, with median ages of 46 and 49.
Farm operators are significantly older than the rest of the labour force for a number of reasons. It is likely that because farmers live where they work, they generally remain more active on their farms longer than others in the general labour force. They may, however, choose to scale back the extent of their operations or their involvement therein, passing most of the work onto their adult children. Also, some people may choose to enter agriculture as a hobby after retiring from the general labour force.
While farm operators in census families on farm types classified as retirement farms have a median age of 66, those on low-income farms were the next oldest operators, at a median age of 50 years. Operators in census families on large to very large business-focused farms were the youngest, with a median age of 46 years.
Table 5 Median age of farm operators in census families on unincorporated farms by farm typology, 2006
The educational profile of farm operators varied from that of the labour force mainly for two groups: those reporting no certificate, diploma or degree and those reporting a university certificate, diploma or degree at the bachelor's level or above. Proportionally more farm operators have no diploma, certificate or degree, and fewer have a bachelor's degree or above when compared to the total labour force.
In 2006, 10.0% of farm operators had university degrees (bachelor level and above), up from 8.7% in 2001. Comparatively, 21.8% of the total labour force in 2006 fell into this category. Female operators more commonly had university degrees than male operators (12.3% compared with 9.1%).
Proportionally more farm operators reported apprenticeship or trades certificates or diplomas than the labour force (14.5% compared with 11.8%). 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.
The percentage of those who have a university certificate, diploma or degree (bachelor's level or above) varies little with age for both the labour force and farm operators.
In 2006, one out of every five operators who reported a post-secondary certificate or diploma had studied in agriculture, agriculture operations and related sciences and this was the most studied field. In the general population, the most studied field was business management, marketing and related support services.
The top fields of study also differed between women and men. Among male operators, the most studied field was agriculture, agriculture operations and related sciences, while the second most popular was mechanic and repair technologies/technicians. In the general population, the top field of study for males was business, management, marketing and related support services, while the second was also mechanic and repair technologies/technicians.
Among female operators, the most studied field was health professions and related clinical sciences, while the second most popular was business, management, marketing and related support services. In the general population, these were also the top two fields of study for females, albeit in reverse order.
In the 2006 Census, 46.1% of farm operators reported their main occupation as non-agricultural. This increased from 40.5% in 2001 and suggests that more operators are working off the farm. This also varied by the operator's age group, as 51.6% of operators aged 35 to 54 years reported a non-agricultural main occupation, while this was only true for 45.1% of operators aged 55 to 64. A higher proportion of female operators reported a non-agricultural occupation than males (59.2% versus 41.1%).
Among the non-agricultural occupations, the top occupation for male operators was transportation equipment operators, while for women operators, clerical occupations were predominantly reported.
Over a lifetime, Canada's farm families have adapted to changes in technology and markets. Some have become more specialized and have found their niche in today's market-driven world, while for others farming may be more of a lifestyle choice.
The farm population's adaptability has enabled them to move from 1931, when many small farms were producing for themselves and local markets, to current times, when fewer but larger farms are working on essentially the same land base to produce for urban centres and export. It is apparent that while the farm population is decreasing, its capacity to produce agricultural commodities continues to grow.