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British Columbia's farm population: changes over a lifetime

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British Columbia's farm population continued its steady decline in numbers, dropping by 1.1% since 2001 to 60,765.

In 1931, when the farm population in British Columbia was compiled for the first time, 102,367 people were living on a farm—14.7% of British Columbia's population. By 2006, the farm population accounted for only 1.5% of the province. In less than one lifetime, British Columbia has moved from 1 in 7 inhabitants living on a farm to 1 in 68. At the same time, British Columbia's total population has grown from 694,263 in 1931 to 4,133,485 in 2006.

Early in the last century, farmers in the province worked on a large number of small farms. In 1931, there were 26,079 farms, with an average of 136 acres per farm. By 2006, the number had decreased to 19,844 farms, with an average of 353 acres per farm. However, the total farm area in British Columbia had increased from 3.5 million acres in 1931 to 7.0 million acres in 2006.

Age of British Columbia's farm population

British Columbia has an aging population, and the story is no different for British Columbia's farm population. In 2006 those aged 65 and older made up 13.5% of the province's farm population, up from 5.4% in 1971. Those 65 and over in 2006 made up slightly more of the province's general population, at 14.6%.

Language profile of British Columbia's farm population

Of British Columbia's entire farm population in 2006, 76.6% reported English as their mother tongue, 0.8% reported French, and the remainder (22.6%) reported a mother tongue other than English or French. Of those who reported another language, the largest group was Punjabi followed by German and Dutch. The profile for the province's general population in 2006 differed, with 71.8% reporting English as their mother tongue, 1.6% reporting French, and the remaining 26.6% citing another language. Of the other languages spoken by the province's general population, the Chinese languages were the largest group, followed by Punjabi and then German.

Place of birth of British Columbia's farm population

The 2006 Census of Population counted 12,060 immigrants in British Columbia's farm population or 19.8% of the total provincial farm population. In 1971, immigrants made up 22.3% of the province's farm population. Conversely, immigrants made up 27.5% of the province's general population in 2006, up from 22.7% in 1971.

Indians were a significant proportion (21.1%) of British Columbia's immigrant farm population, but they made up only 10.7% of immigrants in the province's general population. About 13% 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 British Columbia's immigrant farm population was the United Kingdom at 11.8%, compared to 12.3% in the province's general population.

British Columbia'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, 3,135 British Columbia farm families involved in an incorporated farm in 2006. This is considerably less than the 15,625 British Columbia farm families were involved in an unincorporated farm, down 0.7% from 15,740 families in 2001.

The median total income for British Columbia farm families on unincorporated farms in 2005 was $60,317, compared to $62,351 received by census families in the province's general population.

Education of British Columbia farm operators

In 2006, 15.0% of British Columbia farm operators had university degrees (bachelor level and above) up from 12.5% in 2001. Comparatively, approximately 23% of the province's total labour force fell into this category.

Proportionally more British Columbia farm operators reported apprenticeship or trades certificates or diplomas than the labour force (15.6% compared with 11.4%). 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 British Columbia's farm operators do

In the 2006 Census, about 59% of British Columbia farm operators reported their main occupation as non-agricultural. This increased from 57.1% 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 (63.3% versus 56.3%).

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