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Ontario's farm population: changes over a lifetime

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Ontario's farm population continued its steady decline in numbers, dropping by 4.2% since 2001 to 178,575.

In 1931, when the farm population count in Ontario was compiled for the first time, 800,960 people were living on a farm—23.3% of Ontario's population. By 2006, the farm population accounted for only 1.5% of the province. In less than one lifetime Ontario has moved from 1 in 4 inhabitants living on a farm to 1 in 68. At the same time, Ontario's total population has grown from 3,431,683 in 1931 to 12,160,280 in 2006.

Early in the last century, farmers in the province worked on a large number of small farms. In 1931, there were 192,174 farms, with an average of 119 acres per farm. By 2006, the number had decreased to 57,211 farms, with an average of 233 acres per farm. However, the total farm area in Ontario had gone down from 22.8 million acres in 1931 to 13.3 million acres in 2006.

Age of Ontario's farm population

Ontario has an aging population, and the story is no different for the province's farm population. In 2006 those aged 65 and older made up 12.1% of the province's farm population, up from 7.1% in 1971. Those 65 and over in 2006 made up slightly more of the province's general population, at 13.6%.

Language profile of Ontario's farm population

Of Ontario's entire farm population in 2006, 80.5% reported English as their mother tongue, 3.3% reported French, and the remainder (16.2%) 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 differed, with 69.8% reporting English as their mother tongue, 4.4% reporting French, and the remaining 25.8% citing another language. Of the other languages spoken by the province's general population, the Chinese languages were the largest group, followed by Italian and then Spanish.

Place of birth of Ontario's farm population

The 2006 Census of Population counted 16,790 immigrants in Ontario's farm population or 9.4% of the total provincial farm population. In 1971, immigrants made up 11.6% of the province's farm population. Conversely, immigrants made up 28.3% of the province's general population in 2006, up from 22.2% in 1971.

The Dutch were a significant proportion (30.0%) of Ontario's immigrant farm population, but they made up only 1.8% of immigrants in the province's general population. About 13% of the province's immigrant farm population was from the United Kingdom, compared to about 9% of immigrants in the province's general population. The third most common place of birth for Ontario's immigrant farm population was Germany at 9.1%, compared to 2.4% in the province's general population.

Ontario'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, 9,115 Ontario farm families were involved in an incorporated farm. This is considerably less than the 45,690 Ontario farm families involved in an unincorporated farm in 2006, down 7.4% from 49,325 families in 2001.

The median total income for Ontario farm families on unincorporated farms in 2005 was $63,910, compared to $69,155 received by census families in the province's general population.

Education of Ontario farm operators

In 2006, 11.6% of Ontario farm operators had university degrees (bachelor level and above) up from 10.3% in 2001. Comparatively, approximately 25% of the province's total labour force fell into this category.

Proportionally more Ontario farm operators reported apprenticeship or trades certificates or diplomas than the labour force (10.7% compared with 8.1%). 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 Ontario's farm operators do

In the 2006 Census, about 49% of Ontario farm operators reported their main occupation as non-agricultural. This increased from 43.7% 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 (59.9% versus 44.5%).

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