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Snapshot of Canadian agriculture

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Canada and the world

The 2006 Census of Agriculture is the most recent measure of Canada's overall agricultural performance and its wealth of data provides a valuable snapshot of the sector. But how does Canada perform in a global framework? Comparing Canada to seven other countries that have also taken an agricultural census in the last 10 years provides a valuable perspective for viewing the latest census data. Canada — despite its size — has by far the smallest proportion of total land that is agricultural at only 7.3% (Table 1), mainly because of soil quality and the nature of the Canadian climate and terrain. Of the eight, the United Kingdom has the largest, with 68.6% of its land under agricultural use.

In terms of total agricultural land area, the United Kingdom has the smallest area on farms of all eight countries and Canada, even by this measure, is third smallest. Countries like China and Brazil, which are becoming more agriculturally competitive, also report far more farmland than Canada.

Table 1 Number of farms and area for selected countries and years

Operations vary around the world

In 2006, Canada had 229,373 farms, averaging 728 acres in size. Australia has far fewer operations than Canada, but much more area and an average farm size that is 11 times Canada's average. Following the rural economic reforms in China in the 1980s , land was distributed based on the number of people in a household, creating millions of small household farms.

Farm numbers here at home

Although census farm numbers decreased across the country, some provinces had much higher rates of farm decreases than the national average, with Saskatchewan's farm numbers decreasing 12.4%, representing a loss of 6,269 farms (Table 2). Manitoba also had a significant drop in farm numbers, decreasing 9.6%. Other provinces with more diverse agricultural sectors have had much lower rates of decline, with British Columbia losing only 2.2% of its 2001 farm numbers. Quebec and Ontario also had lower decreases of 4.6% and 4.2%. Many farms in these provinces amalgamated between censuses to remain competitive or they exited.

Table 2 Number of farms and farm area, Canada and provinces, 2006 and 2001

Since 2001, farm numbers have fallen in all receipts classes except for the $250,000-or-more class. About two-thirds (65.6%) of Canadian farms report less than $100,000 in receipts, while 17.4% were in the $100,000-to-$249,999 receipts category. Farms in the $250,000-or-more receipts category now account for 17.0% of farms, compared with 13.9% in 2001 (at 2005 constant prices).

Of the 229,373 farms that were counted in the 2006 Census, 80.3% or 184,191 operations had also reported on the 2001 Census. Slightly over 45,000 operations were new to the most recent census and over 62,700 operations had exited the industry since the previous census.

The drop in farm numbers belies a sector — with some 327,060 operators — that continues to show resilience. Existing operations tended to expand their production, reporting increases in average farm area, cropland and total revenues. New farms, on the other hand, tended to be smaller and report lower average receipts than both existing farms and those farms that were no longer in business in 2006.

Canada is still field crop country

While their proportion has dropped slightly since 2001, Canada is still a field-crop growing country, with 39.8% of all Canadian farms typed as field crop farms (Table 3). The next most common is beef farms, with 26.6% of all farms. Two farm types have had increases in proportion as well as number: "all other animal" farms and "fruit and vegetable" farms.

Table 3
Canadian farms by farm type, 2006 and 2001
Farm type 2006 2001
Number of farms Percentage of total farms Number of farms Percentage of total farms
Source: Statistics Canada, Census of Agriculture, 2001 and 2006
Dairy 14,651 6.4% 18,321 7.4%
Beef 60,947 26.6% 67,838 27.5%
Hog and pig 6,040 2.6% 7,388 3.0%
Poultry and egg 4,578 2.0% 4,937 2.0%
All other animal production 30,594 13.3% 26,846 10.9%
Field crops 91,277 39.8% 101,041 40.9%
Fruit and vegetables 12,532 5.5% 11,663 4.7%
Greenhouse, nursery and floriculture 8,754 3.8% 8,889 3.6%
All farms 229,373 100.0% 246,923 100.0%

Fewer, bigger farms: The trend continues

The total agricultural land area reported to the census was stable between the two censuses, at 167 million acres. As farm numbers drop, the average size of a Canadian farm has increased from 676 acres to 728 acres. Although the national agricultural land area remained stable, the provincial numbers varied, with extremes in the eastern and western corners of Canada. Farm area dropped 10.8% in Newfoundland and increased 9.6% in British Columbia.

Land tenure changing

Farmers are responding to an increasingly competitive environment by changing tenure arrangements. Owned land dropped 2.1%, while area leased or rented from others increased 9.9%. While land ownership remains attractive, land rental has been increasing for the past several censuses and is a less capital-intensive means of expanding an operation. In some cases retiring or downsizing farmers may wish to retain ownership of their land but not work it themselves, making renting it out an attractive option. In other cases, investors or non-farmers may have acquired farmland but are renting it out so that someone else works and maintains it while they still get a return. Crop-sharing, a practice used mostly on the Prairies, had the largest decline in area at 33.9%.

For the first time, the Census of Agriculture asked a question on non-monetary land rental arrangements such as land trading and rent-free agreements. Census results show that 10,000 operations are involved in such arrangements and report 1.7 million acres that may have previously been reported in rented or crop-shared areas.

Canada's land tenure arrangements are similar to two of the seven other countries used as comparisons with 61% to 66% of land area owned (Table 4). However, at the two extremes, 93.8% of farmland is owned in Brazil and 36.3 % in France.

Table 4 Tenure of agricultural land, selected countries and years

Land use

Although land area has stayed constant, land use is changing (Figure 1). Farmers dropped the area devoted to cropland and summerfallow and increased the area of seeded or tame pasture in response to declining farm incomes, low market prices for agricultural commodities and natural disasters. The actual area devoted to crops dropped about a million acres (1.3%) between 2001 and 2006. Total cropland in Canada now stands at almost 89 million acres or 53.1% of all land.

Figure 1 Land use, Canada, census years 1956 to 2006

Summerfallow land dropped by 25.1%. Economic circumstances and technological changes have reduced farmers' reliance on this land management technique. The economic need to keep arable land productive, along with diversified and extended crop rotations, improved seeding and tilling methods and proper use of herbicides have all contributed to the reduction in summerfallow land.

Improved pasture increased 18.5% as some cropland and summerfallow land moved to seeded pasture in order to meet the feed requirements of livestock that were not sent to slaughter due to the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) crisis. Government policies that pay farmers for their environmental stewardship of the land or farmers who find new income sources from woodlots rather than from producing food are behind the increase in other kinds of land uses. "Combined other land," which includes woodlands and wetlands, increased 12.9% in 2006 from the level reported in 2001.

From annual crops to forages

Tough financial conditions in the crops sector, where low commodity prices were coupled with high input costs over the five years between censuses, led to a shift from annual crops — such as wheat and barley — to lower-cost perennial forages such as alfalfa, tame hay, and improved pasture in many provinces (Figure 2).

Figure 2 Forages increase to meet demands for animal feed, Canada, census years 1976 to 2006

Spring wheat is still tops, but losing its lead

With 18.7 million acres, spring wheat — excluding durum — still managed to hang on to top spot among field crops, but its area had declined 8.7% since 2001. This marks the third straight census to note a decline in the area planted in spring wheat. The decline in this commodity isn't particularly unique. Spring wheat's long-time deputy — barley — also declined between censuses, dropping 21.4%, moving it from third to fourth place in the overall ranking. Farmers today have an ever greater list of crops from which to choose, thanks to breeding efforts, good management and marketing know-how, that encourages diversification into other, higher-value crops.

Hay is the second largest crop in Canada and is gaining on wheat with an increase of just over 9% since 2001. Western Canada grows 73.4% of the total hay area.

Moving into third place was canola, totaling 12.4 million acres in 2006 — a 32.9% increase from 2001 (Figure 3). Canola is the result of a Canadian crop-breeding coup in the 1970s. Plant breeders developed a new variety of rapeseed — a cousin of turnips and broccoli — to create a food-grade oilseed. Canola is low in saturated fats and has been lauded as a healthy food oil.

Figure 3 Spring wheat and canola area, Canada, 1971 to 2006

Corn: A lesson in market economics

Demand for corn, and consequently prices, rose in late 2006 and early 2007, fuelled by the expanding corn-derived ethanol fuel sector in the United States.

However, just a year ago when the Census of Agriculture asked farmers about what crops they were growing, prices were low, due to a surplus of corn on the international market. The census found that farmers had 2.75 million acres of corn for grain — a 14.3% decrease since the previous census in 2001. As in 2001, most of this area — 57.3% — was reported on Ontario farms, followed by Quebec farms with over a third (36.4%) of the total.

Continuing the trend tracked over a number of censuses, the zones in which corn was produced expanded. The development of new, shorter-season cultivars triggered increases of grain corn area in Manitoba (Figure 4). Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan have also adopted new corn varieties to increase their area.

Figure 4 Corn area, Canada, Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba, census years 1971 to 2006

Potatoes: International factors hit home

The total area planted to potatoes for Canada in 2006 was 401,583 acres, a decrease of 4.1% since 2001. Between censuses, in 2003, the area peaked after 15 years of continuous expansion when the world appetite for french fries seemed insatiable. However, in 2004 french fry processing plants began to cut their contracts for potatoes as the rising Canadian dollar encouraged American buyers to source more of their product internally. This prompted potato marketing organizations to encourage producers to cut their potato area for all types of potatoes to improve prices.

Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia all decreased in potato area since 2001 (Table 5).

Table 5
Potato area and farms reporting potatoes, Canada and provinces, 2001 and 2006
Province 2006 2001
Area (acres) Number of farms reporting Area (acres) Number of farms reporting
Source: Statistics Canada, Census of Agriculture, 2001 and 2006
Newfoundland and Labrador 805 132 629 152
Prince Edward Island 97,637 412 106,889 468
Nova Scotia 2,623 90 5,114 111
New Brunswick 59,870 341 58,366 374
Quebec 47,466 583 47,190 640
Ontario 38,155 904 43,396 876
Manitoba 80,631 229 77,586 225
Saskatchewan 11,138 210 12,607 214
Alberta 54,759 402 58,341 434
British Columbia 8,499 364 8,665 393
Canada 401,583 3,667 418,783 3,887


An apparent paradox: BSE increases beef herd

Worldwide, BSE has caused many changes to the ruminant livestock sector, most specifically in the beef industry. Beef farms in Canada have had a tough time in the intercensal period, and their numbers reflect that, declining by 10.2% to about 61,000 farms.

In May 2003, a cow in northern Alberta was found to have BSE . The United States, along with 33 other countries, quickly closed its borders to Canadian beef. Operations were forced to retain their cattle and herd sizes increased until 2004 when domestic slaughter capacity started to catch up to the supply. In 2005, borders reopened to cattle less than 30 months old and the herd sizes in Canada started to decline slightly.

On May 16, 2006, Canadian farms held 279,196 more beef cows than in 2001, bringing the total to 5.1 million head. This increase in cows is mainly due to increases in non-reproductive cull cows which were retained longer than usual because of record low prices, a continuing ban on exports for cattle over 30 months of age and limited domestic slaughter capacity. While the number of beef cows had grown, producers had trimmed the number of replacement heifers — their numbers declined 22.8% — preferring to sell them for slaughter rather than add to their future production capacity. Steers and heifers destined for slaughter numbered 3.1 million, an 8.1% increase from 2001.

The post-BSE market reality proves that Canada's beef industry operates in a global market. Table 6 shows where Canada places among the major beef-producing nations of the world. Brazil's number of cattle dwarfs those in Canada by a factor of 10.

Table 6
Livestock and poultry inventories, selected countries and years
Country Census year Number of cattle Number of sheep Number of pigs Number of chickens
.. not available for specific reference period
Source: FAO and Statistics Canada, Census of Agriculture, 2001 and 2006
Canada 2001 15,551,449 1,262,448 13,958,772 126,159,529
Canada 2006 15,773,527 1,142,877 15,043,132 125,314,793
Argentina 2002 48,063,368 12,395,839 2,120,089 ..
Australia 2001 27,721,000 110,928,000 2,748,000 90,973,000
Brazil 1996 153,058,275 13,954,555 27,811,244 718,535,000
China 1997 70,213,955 102,145,030 335,344,414 ..
France 2000 20,258,920 9,416,240 14,869,720 203,370,000
United Kingdom 2000 11,090,680 41,898,890 6,442,720 153,110,000
United States 2002 95,497,994 6,341,799 60,405,103 1,732,714,202

The only profiled country with fewer cattle than Canada's 16 million is the United Kingdom with 11 million head.

Milk constant, fewer cows

The dairy industry in Canada has evolved as better animal nutrition, genetics and know-how continue to increase the productivity of each cow, allowing farmers to decrease the dairy herd by 6.1% since 2001 (to 996,024 dairy cows) while milk production stayed level (Figure 5).

Figure 5 Fewer cows, milk constant, Canada, census years 1976 to 2006

Meanwhile, the dairy sector continued to consolidate with farms reporting dairy dropping 20% in five years, to 14,651 farms. As in the past, the Canadian dairy industry remains centred in Quebec, which accounted for 47.4% of Canada's dairy farms and 38.4% of the dairy cows. Second place Ontario accounted for 33.7% of the dairy operations in the country.

Increase in national pig numbers

Canada's main pork-producing provinces, Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba, continued to be the driving force behind the 7.8% increase in national pig numbers since 2001, to 15,043,132. Farms reporting pigs across Canada dropped 25.7% to 11,497, a trend to larger hog operations that has been apparent for several censuses.

While the circovirus had a profound impact upon some farms, primarily those in Ontario and Quebec, by Census Day the overall impact on the sector was offset by the total growth in pig numbers in 2006.

Many hog operations have chosen to specialize in a particular stage of the production cycle. In the West, exporting weaner pigs to the United States to take advantage of lower feed costs and greater slaughter capacity south of the border continued to be prevalent at census time.

Like many areas of the agricultural sector, conditions have changed considerably since the spring of 2006, and the hog sector has seen its fair share of change. Higher grain prices, the high Canadian dollar and environmental regulations have placed additional pressures on hog producers.

Where the buffalo roam

The number of bison farms had not changed since 2001, but bison numbers were up considerably, growing by nearly 34.9%. In 2006 195,728 bison were reported in Canada: More than 95.6% are reported in the four western provinces and most of the growth was in the West as well.

Bison meat offers consumers an alternative to beef and pork. Programs such as the Bison Marketing Plan in Alberta and the Livestock Loan Guarantee Program in Saskatchewan have been established to develop the industry.

More eggs from fewer chickens

As in many other areas of the agricultural industry, increases in production efficiency — in this case in the rate of lay by hens — has enabled farmers to produce more with less. Fewer birds, (25.9 million or 1.3% fewer than in 2001) are laying the nearly 13 dozen eggs consumed per Canadian every year.

The number of broilers — birds destined for the table — in Canadian barns had a slight increase but improved production efficiencies increased annual broiler production by nearly 100 million kg to 1.18 billion kg in 2005. Annual Canadian consumption of chicken has been going up since the 1970s, from 5.7 kg per person in 1976 to 10.8 kg per person in 2005.

Turkey, it seems, isn't just for holidays anymore. Turkey production jumped by 5.9% between 2000 and 2005. More meat per bird has made increased production possible despite a 5.2% decline in the number of turkeys over the same period. Ontario had 43.7% of the turkey production across the country and Quebec accounted for another 20.4%.

Land management practices

Farmers work the soil less when working the soil

Farmers continued to switch from the deep, wide furrows of conventional tillage to no-till techniques. No-till, a technique in which the seeding equipment slices a thin slit in the earth to deposit the seed without disturbing most of the soil, increased to 46.4% of the area tilled in 2006 from 29.7% in 2001. The area worked with conventional tillage, which had historically been the most popular tillage method, dropped to 28.0% in 2006 from 40.5% in 2001. Conservation tillage — the midpoint between conventional and no-till, dropped from 29.8% of tilled area to 25.6% (Figure 6).

Figure 6 Tillage patterns in Canada, census years 1996 to 2006

While not suited for all crops, no-till offers a number of advantages and farmers have embraced them. While the necessary equipment is a significant investment, it reduces the amount of fuel and time — both expensive commodities — needed to get the crop in. It also has environmental benefits: less soil compaction, improved soil structure, better moisture penetration and retention, and reduced erosion.

The shift to no-till planting also accounts for some of the move away from summerfallowing land. This primarily western Canadian practice, which involves leaving land unplanted to retain soil moisture while controlling weeds with tillage or chemicals, declined by 25.1% in the five years between censuses. Two thirds of the remaining 8.7 million acres under summerfallow were in Saskatchewan. In the past, conventional tillage contributed to lost soil moisture, so much so that on some dry prairie soils two years of moisture accumulation was needed to produce one crop. By using no-till, farmers can produce crops year after year.


The 2006 Census of Agriculture was the first time operators could report separate areas for irrigated field crops, irrigated hay and pasture, irrigated vegetables, irrigated fruits and other irrigated crops. Previous censuses only asked for total irrigated acreage on a single operation.

Total irrigated area across the country increased 7.7% in 2005. Most of the irrigated land in Canada is in Alberta, which now accounts for 63.5% of the national total. Alberta has the largest irrigated field crop and irrigated hay and pasture areas. Most of the vegetable irrigation is in Ontario, with 45.3% of the total irrigated vegetable area.

British Columbia applies most of the irrigation to keep fruit areas, such as the orchards in the Okanagan Valley, thriving. As a whole, the province accounts for 52.8% of total irrigated fruit area in the country.

Manure use is spreading

Manure is an unavoidable byproduct of livestock production as well as a highly valuable nutrient and soil-conditioning agent. When properly applied, manure adds nutrients and improves the soil's condition while avoiding undesirable odours, run-off and pollution.

Solid or composted manure was spread on 5,670,918 acres, just over two-thirds of the total area on which manure was applied in Canada. Beef cattle operations, the majority of which are in western Canada, applied a larger area of solid or composted manure than any other type of farm. While over three-quarters (76.8%) of all cattle are in western Canada, just over half (54.3%) of the solid or composted manure was spread there. It is mainly the steer and feed heifer feedlots that are mechanically applying solid manure, whereas the western cow-calf operations are shifting towards year-round pasturing where no spreading is required. Poultry, sheep, goat, and horse operations are also associated with solid manure application. Hog and dairy operations are most likely to spread liquid manure.

The average area of liquid manure application increased, now accounting for just under one-third of the land, or 2,729,391 acres, on which manure is spread. Farm operators are spreading manure over larger acreages, reflecting a trend towards better nutrient management planning partly due to the requirements of various provincial regulations.

The practice of applying liquid manure using irrigation equipment decreased and amounted to only 0.6% of the land on which manure was spread in 2005. Liquid manure applied by irrigation has the highest risk of run-off, nutrient loss and odour.


Greenhouse area grows rapidly, especially in Ontario

Greenhouse operators have had a busy five years, boosting area by 21.1% to 239.3 million square feet — an area equivalent to 2,727 football fields. Operations in Ontario accounted for over half the increase in total area, but all provinces except New Brunswick increased their totals.

For the first time, the area under glass used to produce vegetables (113.8 million square feet) exceeded that used to produce flowers (99.9 million square feet). This increase in greenhouse area for vegetables offsets the reduction in area for growing the same vegetables, mostly tomatoes and cucumbers, outdoors. Demand for year-round high quality produce has driven the move to greenhouse vegetables.

Blueberries dominate fruit production while apple and strawberry areas fall

The total area in fruit climbed 5.3% between the 2001 and 2006 censuses, to 271,986 acres across the country. Blueberries have become such a popular crop, with their reputation as a healthy food choice, that they have been a driving factor for the fruit sector, accounting for 46.6% of the total acreage in 2006 (Figure 7). Quebec's 24.5% increase in blueberry area, to 41,757 acres in 2006, displaced Nova Scotia from first place. Blueberry area in Nova Scotia had only increased 3.0%. New Brunswick was third with 22,107 acres, followed by British Columbia, where blueberry area grew 61.5%.

Figure 7 Major fruit area and percentage change since 2001, Canada, 2006

The Canadian grape sector — driven by the success of Canadian wineries — has also continued to grow, increasing to 30,059 acres, up 14.9%. Ontario and British Columbia are home to the bulk of the vines, but the sector has been spreading beyond the borders of these two provinces. The Maritimes and Quebec both boasted increases in grape area as Canada now has a reputation for producing some excellent wines.

But things haven't been entirely rosy for the fruit sector. Many producers have difficulty finding the labour to tend and harvest their crops while competition from imports and changing consumer tastes have hit some fruit growers — particularly apple producers — hard. The area in apples dropped over 9,000 acres to 54,612 acres in 2006.

Canadian strawberry area also declined between the censuses, falling 13.3% to 12,861 acres in 2006. Once a highly anticipated seasonal and local product, strawberries are now shipped in from warmer climates and are available year-round in grocery stores — a competitive factor that has influenced the drop in Canadian strawberry area.

It's cherry blossom season — in Saskatchewan!

Traditional cherry cultivars are typically suited to the southern parts of Ontario and British Columbia. But breeders at the University of Saskatchewan have developed new cherry cultivars suited to their climate that are reflected in census data. These trees and bushes, along with the increase in saskatoon berry production, drove the growth of the fruit sector up by one-fifth in Saskatchewan, to 1,856 acres. The area in cherries on the Prairies still only amounts to 322 acres (compared to the 3,496 acres in Ontario) but it looks like cherry blossom season is becoming a Prairie phenomenon.

Declining processing capacity drives vegetable production down

The 6.9% decline (Figure 8) in area planted to vegetables across Canada has affected most provinces but particularly Ontario and Quebec. Across the country, vegetable processors have closed or become less competitive as the effects of a strong Canadian dollar and increasing offshore competition were felt. And, as mentioned in the discussion on greenhouses, greenhouse-grown tomatoes and cucumbers have replaced field varieties in supermarkets, mainly in Ontario and Quebec, and have become a popular export to the United States.

Figure 8 Major field-grown vegetables and percentage change since 2001, Canada, 2006

Sweet corn still dominates vegetable area at 24.1% of the total vegetable area (Figure 8).

While the area in vegetables most often used for processing has declined, the area in vegetables usually intended for the fresh market or for storage increased, particularly for carrots, onions and lettuce.

Instant lawns and gardens: Just add water

It's no secret that the housing sector has been on a roll over the past couple of years, hitting new records only to surpass them later. Keeping step with the housing boom is the growth in the Canadian agricultural products for landscaping. Sod area had increased 24.4% since 2001 to 69,090 acres. An additional 61,659 acres in nursery area to supply the trees, shrubs and perennials brought the total to 130,749 acres.

Maple taps: Sweet news for the West

Only a few short years ago the annual ritual of sugaring-off was practised primarily in Eastern Canada. Maple syrup was produced mostly in Quebec. Fewer taps were found in Ontario and the Maritimes, with very little west of Manitoba.

But times change, and people challenge tradition by trying the same old things but in brand new places. The 2006 Census shows maple producers in every province except Newfoundland and Labrador, with Alberta and British Columbia reporting maple taps for the first time. British Columbia producers are tapping big-leaf maples on Vancouver Island, while Prairie producers make syrup from Manitoba maples. Quebec with 34.7 million taps still has 91.1% of the Canadian total.

Bees don't work just for honey

As well as being food producers for the agriculture industry, honeybees are becoming more and more worker bees for pollinating crops, and many other species of bees are being used exclusively for pollination.

Farmers reported 553,594 colonies of honeybees in 2006. Although all provinces reported honeybees, more than seven out of every 10 colonies (71.5%) were located in the Prairie provinces and most were found in Alberta, the province with the largest acreage of forage seed in Canada.

Other pollinating bees used exclusively for pollination — principally leaf-cutter bees — are found almost entirely in the three Prairie provinces, with 96.8% of the 399,968 gallons of other pollinating bees reported. Saskatchewan has over half (55.6%) of the leaf-cutter bees in Canada.

Canadian farms in the technology world

The Census of Agriculture has been collecting data on farms using computers for the farm business since 1986, but it is only since 2001 that data have been collected on the applications used. In 2006, 106,409 farms reported using a computer for the farm business. The proportion of farms using a computer to help manage the farm had nearly doubled every five years from 1986 to 2001. In 2006, the number of farms reporting computer use stood at 46.4%, compared to 39.4% in 2001.

With data from a second census on applications used now in hand, it's plain that Canadian farms, like businesses around the world, are using the Internet more: Three-quarters of Canadian farms (75.3%) that reported using computers used the Internet in 2006 compared to 70.4% in 2001. With improvements in technology and increased availability of high-speed in rural communities, farmers can use the Internet to collect information for making decisions related to their farm business. In 2001, bookkeeping had been the most common application reported by 77.6% of Canadian farms that reported using computers, but fell to 71.5% in 2006, making it second after Internet use. This decline may be due in part to the addition of a category for online banking in 2006.

Canadian farms seem to have partly replaced the trip to the bank with a click of the mouse. About 47.8% of farms using a computer did so for banking. This represents 22.2% of all farms.

As in 2001, the proportion of Canadian farms in 2006 that used a computer was higher for farms with receipts of $250,000 or over than for those with receipts under that threshold. Seventy-one percent of farms with receipts $250,000 or over reported computer use, but less than half (41.3%) of farms with receipts under $250,000 were using them. The higher receipts group of computer users tended to use computers for bookkeeping, payroll or tax preparation (80.8%) followed by the Internet (77.4%). In the other group, 74.6% used the computer for the Internet, followed by e-mail with 69.3%.

Organic products a growing market

Sustainability of agriculture, environmental concerns and food safety issues have all contributed to the growth of organic farming in Canada. Census results show 15,511 or 6.8% of all Canadian farms reported growing organic products for sale in 2006. Farms producing organic, but not certified commodities outnumber both certified organic farms and farms that are in transition to becoming certified (Table 7).

Table 7
Farms producing organic products, by certification status, Canada, 2006
Certification status Number of farms reporting Percentage of all farms in Canada
Source: Statistics Canada, 2006 Census of Agriculture
Organic but not certified 11,937 5.2%
Certified organic 3,555 1.5%
Transitional 640 0.3%

These farms differ in the type of commodities produced. Farms that are reporting organic but not certified products are more likely to report animal production — 6,380 farms did so (Figure 9). British Columbia reported the most (1,720), closely followed by Ontario, with 1,545 farms.

Figure 9 Organic status and organic products, Canada, 2006

Field crops are the predominant certified organic commodity, with 2,462 operations reporting. Half of these farms are in Saskatchewan, followed by Ontario as a distant second at 18.9%. Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan are the only provinces to report more certified field crop farms than non-certified farms.

Farms in transition to becoming certified organic also tend to report field crops as their primary product. Again Saskatchewan outranked all other provinces, with 37.7% of these transitional farms reporting organic field crops.

Organic maple products, irrespective of certification status, come mostly from Quebec; British Columbia dominates in organic fruit and vegetable production.

Farm operators

Farm operators are getting older

Looking at farm operators in three age categories — under 35 years, 35 to 54, and 55 and over — shows clear trends. The number of operators under 35 years of age has been declining since at least 1991, the first year when more than one operator could be counted per farm. From 2001 to 2006, the number of operators in this youngest group decreased by 25.1% to 29,920 operators, less than the 34.6% drop between 1996 and 2001, but still significant. As a proportion of the total number of operators, the under-35 group's share fell from 11.5% of operators to 9.1% since 2001 (Figure 10).

Figure 10 Trend to fewer young operators continues, Canada, census years 1991 to 2006

The 35-to-54 age group decreased as well, both in absolute numbers and proportionally, between 2001 and 2006, down 11.5% to 164,160. As a proportion of the total number of operators, the 35-to-54 group's share fell from 53.6% of operators to 50.2% since 2001. The 55-and-over group showed the opposite movement, increasing by 10.2% to 132,975 operators and showing the influence of the baby-boom generation as they age and move from the 35-to-54 category to 55 and over. As a proportion of the total number of operators, the 55 and over group's share increased from 34.9% of operators to 40.7% since 2001.

The average age of farm operators continues to increase (Table 8). The average age of farm operators increased from 49.9 in 2001 to 52.0 in 2006. Quebec has the youngest average age, at 49.3 years, as well as the only average age under 50, while British Columbia, at 53.6, has the oldest. The three largest provinces, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta, have averages of just over 52 years.

Table 8
Average age of farm operators, Canada and the provinces, census years 1991 to 2006
Province 2006 2001 1996 1991
Source: Statistics Canada, Census of Agriculture, 1991 to 2006
Newfoundland and Labrador 52.3 50.5 47.7 46.2
Prince Edward Island 51.4 49.3 48.0 47.6
Nova Scotia 53.2 51.0 49.1 48.3
New Brunswick 52.8 51.0 49.4 48.1
Quebec 49.3 47.0 45.2 44.3
Ontario 52.6 50.7 49.4 48.3
Manitoba 51.2 49.0 47.7 47.4
Saskatchewan 52.6 50.5 49.2 48.2
Alberta 52.2 49.9 48.2 47.3
British Columbia 53.6 51.4 49.4 48.9
Canada 52.0 49.9 48.4 47.5

Increasing share of female operators

The proportion of women who count themselves in as farm operators has increased since 2001, continuing the trend since 1991 when the Census of Agriculture first started to count up to three operators. Just over one-quarter (27.8%) of all operators were women, a slight increase from 26.3% five years earlier. Nevertheless, women continued to be rare as sole operators, even though they made up about 40% of operators on multiple-operator farms.

On- and off-farm work

Fewer farmers are working full time on the farm and more are farming part time (Table 9). Hours worked on the farm have remained stable for both sexes since 1996, and female operators tended to report fewer hours per week working on the operation than male operators. Nearly a third of women operators worked more than 40 hours per week on the farm, compared with 53.8% of men. Only 22.1% of men worked fewer than 20 hours on the farm, compared with 40.3% of women.

Since 2001, more farm operators are working off the farm and more are working longer hours per week. Often, it is the opportunity to find work that lures farmers from the land; Alberta's hot job market is a magnet for many and not just farmers. Nearly half (48.4%) of all farm operators had an off-farm job or business, compared to 44.5% in 2001. Off the farm, the biggest increase was in full-time, off-farm employment, which increased from 17.6% of operators to 20.2%, but each category of off-farm work has increased in percentage terms.

Table 9
On- and off-farm work, Canada, 2001 and 2006
Empty cell  2006 2001
Number of operators Percentage of total Number of operators Percentage of total
… not applicable
Source: Statistics Canada, Census of Agriculture, 2001 and 2006
Total 327,060 346,200
Men 236,220 72.2 255,015 73.7
Women 90,840 27.8 91,180 26.3
Work on farm in year prior to census
Less than 20 hours per week 88,870 27.2 88,045 25.4
20 to 40 hours per week 85,555 26.2 92,955 26.9
More than 40 hours per week 152,630 46.7 165,200 47.7
Work off farm in year prior to census
Less than 20 hours per week 30,715 9.4 30,080 8.7
20 to 40 hours per week 61,380 18.8 63,265 18.3
More than 40 hours per week 66,160 20.2 60,870 17.6
Work off farm in year prior to census
Total 158,255 48.4 154,215 44.5
Men 112,495 47.6 112,605 44.2
Women 45,760 50.4 41,610 45.6

Both men and women work off the farm in significant numbers. However, in 2006, for the first time, the proportion of female operators who had off-farm work reached one-half (50.4%). In comparison, 47.6% of men had off-farm work.

From Quebec westward, the proportion of farm operators working off the farm has increased in every province but the biggest increases by far are in Alberta and Saskatchewan, probably due to work opportunities in the oil industry and Alberta's booming economy in recent years.

Injuries on Canadian farms

In the 2006 Census, 13,801 farms reported farm-related injuries in the previous 12 months. This represents 6.0% of all Canadian farms. The total number of farms reporting injuries does not equal the number of farms reporting injuries among operators (11,891), other family members (1,892) or other persons (1,320), as the same farm could report injuries in more than one category.

The most common injury among farms reporting injuries was a sprain or a strain (43.9%). Broken bones or fractures were reported by 27.0% of farms. The third most common injury was open wounds or amputations (23.4%).

Comparisons by farm type of all farms to farms reporting injuries (Table 10) show that livestock operations have a higher proportion of injuries than crop operations. Other than poultry and egg operations, all livestock operations had a higher incidence of injury than their overall share of operations by farm type.

Table 10 Injuries by farm type, Canada, 2006
Farm type All farms Percentage of all farms Farms reporting injuries Percentage of all farms reporting injuries
Source: Statistics Canada, 2006 Census of Agriculture
Dairy 14,651 6.4% 1,420 10.3%
Beef 60,947 26.6% 4,138 30.0%
Hog and pig 6,040 2.6% 485 3.5%
Poultry and egg 4,578 2.0% 215 1.6%
All other animal 30,594 13.3% 2,045 14.8%
Field crops 91,277 39.8% 4,480 32.5%
Fruit and vegetables 12,532 5.5% 526 3.8%
Greenhouse, nursery and floriculture 8,754 3.8% 492 3.6%
All farms 229,373 100.0% 13,801 100.0%

For farms reporting operator injuries, field crop farms report the highest incidence of injury with 34.0% of farms. On the other hand, beef farms rank ahead of all other farm types with 32.0% of the farms reporting injuries to other family members.

The picture changes in the case of farms reporting injuries to other persons. After field crop farms — which report 20.1% of the injuries to other persons — are greenhouse, nursery and floriculture operations (15.0%), likely because this farm type uses more hired labour.

Where does Canadian Agriculture go from here?

In the year since the Census of Agriculture took place, a number of considerable shifts have affected the industry. One of the highlights to be sure is the drive by a number of countries, but most notably the United States to expand fuel production from agricultural commodities. The potential for a significant reduction in U.S. grain and oilseed exports has increased grain prices worldwide. While that development has made grain and oilseed farmers optimistic as they consider what to plant this spring, it has made livestock producers pause at the prospect of higher feed costs at a time when livestock processing capacity is declining further in some regions. How these and other factors play out in relation to domestic and international supply and demand, trade, regulation and agricultural policy has yet to be seen.

The Census of Agriculture serves as a benchmark for many regular surveys on crop areas, livestock inventories and economic data published by the Agriculture Division. These series will, where necessary, be revised to align with census data, and measure the constant change and challenges farmers face.

Statistics Canada would like to thank the Canadian farming community for their participation and assistance in the 2006 Census of Agriculture.


1An operation is considered a census farm if it produces at least one of the following products intended for sale:

  • Crops: Hay, field crops, tree fruits or nuts, berries or grapes, vegetables, seed
  • Livestock: Cattle, pigs, sheep, horses, game animals, other livestock
  • Poultry: Hens, chickens, turkeys, chicks, game birds, other poultry
  • Animal products: Milk or cream, eggs, wool, furs, meat
  • Other agricultural products: Christmas trees, sod, greenhouse, or nursery products, mushrooms, honey or bees, maple syrup products
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2Operations that have not been through a formal certification process (whereby a third-party agent has visited the farm and charged a fee). Some operations may define themselves as organic but not certified because they have been following proper organic farming practices, but do not certify.

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3Operations in the process of converting their farm to organic standards.

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4The procedure whereby a (officially accredited) certification body provides written assurance that products or production systems conform to specified requirements. Certification of products may be based on a range of inspection activities including verification of management practices, auditing of quality assurance systems and in/out production balances. (Source: Canadian General Standards Board)

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