Frequently asked questions

Who should fill out a questionnaire?

  1. Who needs to complete a Census of Agriculture questionnaire?
  2. What is the definition of an agricultural operator?
  3. How is an agricultural operation defined?
  4. Are hobby farms included in the Census of Agriculture?
  5. Why do operators of very small operations have to fill in the Census of Agriculture questionnaire?
  6. How does the Census of Agriculture benefit operators?
  7. What is the legal authority for the Census of Agriculture?
  8. Is it mandatory to answer and return the questionnaire?

Confidentiality and biosecurity

  1. Can a person be identified by the information they provide?
  2. Why does Statistics Canada conduct the Census of Agriculture?
  3. How are my data kept private?
  4. Is information from the Census of Agriculture and the Census of Population combined in any way?
  5. What safeguards are in place to protect biosecurity on farms?

Costs and response burden

  1. Why doesn't the Census of Agriculture use sampling?
  2. Why aren't there different questionnaires for different types of agricultural operations?
  3. How much does the Census of Agriculture cost?
  4. Why is the Census of Agriculture taken in May, such a busy time for farmers?
  5. Is Statistics Canada conducting a Farm Financial Survey this year in addition to the Census of Agriculture?
  6. What about my income tax return? The census seems to be asking for exactly the same information that I've already given the government.
  7. Why are other agriculture surveys taken at the same time as the census?
  8. What other agriculture surveys are being conducted during the 2011 Census window?
  9. How is response burden being reduced?

Content and data

  1. What is different about the 2011 Census of Agriculture from 2006?
  2. How was the content of the 2011 Census of Agriculture determined?
  3. How many agricultural operations were counted in the last Census of Agriculture?
  4. How are Census of Agriculture data used?
  5. Does the Census of Agriculture ask any questions that could be used to assess farming's impact on the environment?

Processing the data

  1. Where will Census of Agriculture data be processed?
  2. What steps are taken to ensure that all agricultural operations are counted?
  3. When will the 2011 Census of Agriculture data be available to the public, and how can I keep track of releases?
  4. Why does it take a year to release results from the Census of Agriculture?
  5. For what geographic areas are Census of Agriculture data available?
  6. How is the quality of the data evaluated?

Who should fill out a questionnaire?

1. Who needs to complete a Census of Agriculture questionnaire?

Any of the persons responsible for operating a farm or an agricultural operation should fill in a Census of Agriculture questionnaire.

2. What is the definition of an agricultural operator?

The Census of Agriculture uses the word operator to define a person responsible for the management and/or financial decisions made in the production of agricultural commodities. An agricultural operation can have more than one operator, such as a husband and wife, a father and son, two sisters, or two neighbours.

The terms "agricultural operator" and "operation" are used in the census because they are broader in scope than "farmer" and "farm", and better reflect the range of agricultural businesses from which the Census of Agriculture collects data. For example, the term farm would not usually be associated with operations such as maple sugar bushes, mushroom houses, ranches or feedlots.

3. How is an agricultural operation defined?

An agricultural operation is defined as a farm, ranch or other operation that produces agricultural products intended for sale.

The Census of Agriculture considers an agricultural operation to be:

Any operation that grows or produces any of the agricultural products listed below with the intent to sell these products (it is not necessary to have had sales of the products, only that they are being produced with the intent of selling them).

Crops:

  • hay and field crops (hay, grains, field peas, beans, potatoes, coriander and other spices, etc.)
  • vegetables (all vegetables, herbs, rhubarb, melons, garlic, gourds, etc.)
  • sod, nursery products and Christmas trees
  • fruits, berries or nuts (apples, other fruit trees, grapes, blueberries and other berries, saskatoons, hazelnuts, etc.)
  • seed

Poultry:

  • laying hens and pullets
  • layer and broiler breeders
  • broilers, roasters and Cornish
  • turkeys
  • other poultry (geese, ducks, roosters, ostriches, emus, pheasants, quail, pigeons, etc.)
  • commercial poultry hatcheries

Livestock:

  • cattle and calves
  • pigs
  • sheep and lambs
  • other livestock (horses, goats, llamas, alpacas, rabbits, bison, elk, deer, wild boars, mink, fox, donkeys, mules, chinchillas, etc.)

Animal products:

  • milk or cream
  • eggs
  • wool
  • fur
  • meat

Other agricultural products:

  • greenhouse products
  • mushrooms
  • maple products
  • bees owned (for honey or pollination)

Other products or activities considered agricultural operations according to the Census of Agriculture are:

  • harvesting wild rice
  • sprouting alfalfa or beans
  • growing legal cannabis
  • growing mushrooms on logs in a controlled environment
  • wineries, if they grow any grapes or fruit
  • garden centres if they grow any of their products
  • hay processing or dehydration plants if they grow hay on land they own or lease
  • horse operations that do not sell agricultural products but offer boarding, riding or training services.

The following are NOT considered agricultural operations according to the Census of Agriculture:

Operations that harvest or grow only:

  • peat moss
  • top soil
  • gravel
  • fish (wild or aquaculture)
  • silviculture products
  • wild cones, wild Christmas trees, logs, firewood, pulpwood, evergreen boughs, etc.
  • wild berries, wild plants, wild mushrooms, etc.
  • all wild animals
  • racing pigeons
  • worms
  • crickets, rats, mice, etc. for pet stores
  • laboratory animal production
  • all pets (dogs, cats, pot-bellied pigs, guinea pigs, finches, budgies, etc.), including kennels for pets.

For the Yukon, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories only, the following activities qualify as an agricultural operation for the Census of Agriculture:

  • herding wild animals (such as caribou and muskox)
  • breeding sled dogs
  • horse outfitting and rigging
  • harvesting indigenous plants and berries.

4. Are hobby farms included in the Census of Agriculture?

Yes. Farms with very low farm revenues—commonly called "hobby" farms—are included as long as the agricultural products produced are intended for sale.

5. Why do operators of very small operations have to fill in the Census of Agriculture questionnaire?

The Census of Agriculture enumerates small operations because it is important that the total farm area and the total inventory of all crops, livestock and other agricultural products in Canada be counted. There are many small agricultural operations that as a group contribute significantly to agricultural inventories.

6. How does the Census of Agriculture benefit operators?

When an agricultural operator fills out and sends back his or her census questionnaire, it adds another voice to the quarter of a million answers that are reflected in census data. In combination they provide the only definitive statistical picture of Canada's farm sector available to farmers' own organizations and to agriculture policy-makers. The media also interpret census data, bringing current issues to the forefront of public attention.

Although there are other agriculture surveys, only the Census of Agriculture gives data at the local level. Its community-level data ensure that the issues affecting farmers, farm communities and agricultural operations are included when making decisions that affect them and their livelihood.

  • Operators can use census data to make production, marketing and investment decisions.
  • Producer groups and marketing agencies use census data in their non-government organizations to tell Canadians and government how they are doing economically.
  • Companies supplying agricultural products and services use the data to determine locations for their service centres.
  • Government policy advisors use the data to help develop programs related to safety nets and agricultural workers for the agriculture sector.
  • Operators can keep abreast of trends through the analysis of Census of Agriculture data published by the agriculture media.
  • Agriculture websites can target their information based on current trends and needs in the sector identified by census data.
  • Governments and farm organizations use census data to evaluate the impact of natural disasters on agriculture (such as floods, drought and icestorms) and react quickly.

7. What is the legal authority for the Census of Agriculture?

The mandate to conduct the Census of Agriculture every 10 years comes from the Constitution Act–1867 (formerly the British North America Act [BNA]).

Over the decades the mandate to conduct a census in the Constitution Act–1867 was augmented by the Statistics Act–1970, which stipulates that

"A census of agriculture of Canada shall be taken by Statistics Canada

  1. in the year 1971 and in every tenth year thereafter; and
  2. in the year 1976 and in every tenth year thereafter, unless the Governor in Council otherwise directs in respect of any such year, 1970-71-72, c. 15, s. 19."

8. Is it mandatory to answer and return the questionnaire?

Yes. Under the Statistics Act, agricultural operators are required to complete a Census of Agriculture form.

Confidentiality and biosecurity

9. Can a person be identified by the information they provide?

No. All published data are subject to confidentiality restrictions, and any data in which an individual or agricultural operation could be identified are suppressed.

10. Why does Statistics Canada conduct the Census of Agriculture?

The Census of Agriculture collects a wide range of data on the agriculture industry such as number of farms and farm operators, farm area, business operating arrangements, land management practices, livestock and crop inventories, operating expenses and receipts, farm capital and farm machinery and equipment.

These data provide a comprehensive picture of the agriculture industry across Canada every five years at the national, provincial and sub-provincial levels.

11. How are my data kept private?

All questionnaires are returned by mail to a single processing centre in the National Capital Region. Any telephone follow-up of incomplete questionnaires is from a centralized location outside your area.

While employees of Statistics Canada will see your personal information while your form is being processed, they have all sworn an oath of secrecy that comes with significant penalties should they disclose personal information.

12. Is information from the Census of Agriculture and the Census of Population combined in any way?

Yes. A special Agriculture–National Household Survey database is created after each census to provide a social profile of people involved in agriculture. Information can be found on the size of the farm population, marital status and language of farm operators and the size of farm families. The provisions on confidentiality ensure that the identity of individuals is protected and that they cannot be identified by the information they provide.

13. What safeguards are in place to protect biosecurity on farms?

All Census of Agriculture questionnaires are mailed to respondents, although in some parts of rural Canada enumerators visit your house to deliver your Census of Population questionnaire.

Diseases can be accidentally introduced by a visitor to a farm and agricultural operators may limit access to their land or farm buildings. Enumerators are asked to behave responsibly by showing sensitivity to the issues operators face, and by making sure their actions do not contribute to the risk of spreading infection.

Enumerators follow these practices when delivering census questionnaires:

  • Questionnaires are delivered to the residence or farmhouse only.
  • Enumerators do not cross farmland or fields to locate the operator if no one is home.
  • They also will not enter farm buildings, farm shops, etc., in an attempt to locate the operator.
  • Pets do not accompany an enumerator.

If there is a biosecurity sign at the entrance or main gate ("Restricted Access" for example) the enumerator will not enter the property but will record that "access is restricted" and another method (such as a phone call) will be used to ensure that the operator receives the census questionnaires.

Costs and response burden

14. Why doesn't the Census of Agriculture use sampling?

The Statistics Act requires that a census of all farm operations in Canada be conducted every five years. Since a census includes, by definition, every farm operation, sampling only a portion of operations would not honour the Act nor would it provide the complete picture a census can.

The Census of Agriculture is the primary source for small-area data and for survey sampling and it is important that each agricultural operation complete a Census of Agriculture questionnaire, regardless of size or geographic location. Samples are used for making agriculture estimates between census years.

15. Why aren't there different questionnaires for different types of agricultural operations?

The Census of Agriculture uses a generalized form for operators across Canada, since all respondents need to answer some questions. Using one form nation-wide ensures consistency across Canada, while tick boxes and different sections for specific types of operations allow operators to answer only those questions pertinent to their type of operation. A single form also keeps development costs down. Every effort is made to keep the questionnaire as concise as possible to minimize respondent burden.

16. How much does the Census of Agriculture cost?

The projected total cost for the 2011 Census of Agriculture over the six-year cycle is $42.4 million. An independently conducted Census of Agriculture would cost at least $13 million more in total than it does by combining it with the Census of Population.

17. Why is the Census of Agriculture taken in May, such a busy time for farmers?

In this particularly busy and stressful period the arrival of the 2011 Census of Agriculture questionnaire in May might seem ill-timed. But by working with the Census of Population, the Census of Agriculture is afforded an opportunity to save millions of taxpayers' dollars by sharing many aspects of collection, including postal costs and the processing centre. The timing of the larger Census of Population is driven by the need to maximize the number of Canadians who are home during enumeration. During the winter our retired "snowbirds" migrate south, and the moment school lets out many Canadian families with school children go on vacation. These factors have led the Census of Population to decide that May 10 will be Census Day. While it may take farm operators away from their work, filling in the questionnaire yields its own benefits.

Producer groups and marketing agencies use census data to tell Canadians and governments about their economic health, which can influence agriculture policies. Operators can keep abreast of trends through the analysis of Census of Agriculture data published by the agriculture media. And the agriculture websites used by farmers can target their information to current trends and needs based on census data.

18. Is Statistics Canada conducting a Farm Financial Survey this year in addition to the Census of Agriculture?

The Farm Financial Survey is conducted every year. In 2011, the collection period was in July and August and coincided with the census collection period. To lighten the burden on respondents, overlap with other agriculture surveys is minimized.

19. What about my income tax return? The census seems to be asking for exactly the same information that I've already given the government.

At this time respondents must provide business financial information for their agricultural operation on the Census of Agriculture questionnaire. However, Statistics Canada will use this information to determine how to use tax data to replace the detailed operating expenses in Step 32 for the 2016 Census of Agriculture in order to reduce the response burden for farmers.

20. Why are other agriculture surveys taken at the same time as the census?

Because timely information on the agriculture industry is required by governments and other users, it is necessary to conduct sample surveys with a shorter time frame than the census. The Census of Agriculture is a national activity that involves collecting information from every agricultural operation in Canada. The collection, follow-up, quality checks, tabulation and publication of data from such an extensive operation take about one year. The census could not replace small-scale surveys, which have a much more rapid turnaround time. It is also more economical to collect certain types of information on a sample basis, especially if the required data are only for specific provinces or population groups. Once available, Census of Agriculture data are used to benchmark farm surveys.

21. What other agriculture surveys are being conducted during the 2011 Census window?

Between mid-April and the end of June Statistics Canada conducts these agriculture surveys:

  • the Atlantic Agriculture Survey (sample size approximately 1,000 in the Atlantic Region)
  • the Fruit and Vegetable Survey, Spring (sample size approximately 12,000 nationally)
  • the Maple Survey (sample size approximately 2,000 in Ontario and New Brunswick)
  • the National Potato Area and Yield Survey (sample size approximately 200 in the Atlantic Region, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia)
  • the Ranch Fur Survey (sample size approximately 300 nationally)
  • the June Farm Survey (sample size approximately 24,850 nationally, excluding the Atlantic Region)
  • the July Livestock Survey (sample size approximately 10,500 in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia)
  • the Hay and Straw Prices Survey (Ontario only, sample size approximately 125).

22. How is response burden being reduced?

During the Census of Agriculture collection period, the Agriculture Division cancels some smaller surveys, reduces the sample size for others, and minimizes the overlap with big surveys like the Farm Financial Survey.

Offering farm operators choices in the way they respond to the Census of Agriculture—on paper with return by mail, online, or by telephone—can also make responding easier and faster. A toll-free help line to answer respondents' questions about the Census of Agriculture is also available.

Content and data

23. What is different about the 2011 Census of Agriculture from 2006?

The 2011 Census of Agriculture questionnaire contains questions asked in 2006 as well as new ones. Some questions remain unchanged to maintain consistency and comparability of data over time. Other questions have been added or deleted to reflect changes in the agriculture industry. For example:

  • Business Number: A question has been added to request the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) Business Number for the agricultural operation. In addition, a brief explanation of the intent of this question has been added to the back cover of the questionnaire. Using this data, a pilot project will evaluate the feasibility of replacing the financial information asked in Step 32 with CRA tax data, which could significantly reduce the response burden for farmers.
  • Paid work: The number of employees working full or part time has been added in order to provide a measure of the number of people working on farms. This will significantly add to the picture of agricultural labour when coupled with the established questions on the number of hours or weeks of paid work on farms.
  • Crop residue: A new step has been added to request the area from which crop residue was baled. This is an environmentally relevant question, as crop residue management affects erosion rates, contamination of surface and groundwater, greenhouse gas emissions, and carbon sequestration.
  • Practices and land features: Two new questions have been added to identify agricultural operations involved in "in-field winter grazing or feeding" and "nutrient management planning." These questions will provide more comprehensive data on farmers' adoption of environmental management techniques.
  • Internet: A question on access to high-speed Internet has been added in order to evaluate the accessibility of respondents to services provided by Internet. This will assist agriculture service providers in the public and private sectors in planning service delivery to farmers.
  • Farm-related injuries: These questions were removed because better quality data are available from alternative sources.
  • Organic but not certified: This category was removed in order to reflect the new regulations on the use of the term "organic."

An explanation of other changes or additions from the 2006 questionnaire is available by topic in the order they appear on the 2011 questionnaire. These changes are a result of user consultations and testing before the 2011 questionnaire was finalized. Some questions or categories have been combined in response to suggestions that doing so would make the question more understandable and easier to answer.

24. How was the content of the 2011 Census of Agriculture determined?

Census of Agriculture staff consulted with data users at a series of workshops held across Canada in 2007. Agricultural producer groups, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada analysts, other public and private sector analysts and academics suggested new topics for the 2011 Census of Agriculture by written submission after consultation workshops.

New or changed questions were developed in Head Office in consultation with industry experts and tested a number of times with farm operators who reflected regional diversity—in types of agriculture, production techniques, farm size, language and age. This testing proved that some questions would not perform well on the census, and that the wording of other questions would require fine-tuning.

Based on the test results, Statistics Canada finalized the content and design of the 2011 questionnaire in the fall of 2009. The questions were approved by Cabinet and prescribed by Order in Council as required under the Statistics Act in the spring of 2010.

25. How many agricultural operations were counted in the last Census of Agriculture?

The 2006 Census of Agriculture recorded 229,373 census farms.

Table 1 Number of agricultural operations in 2011 and 2006, Canada and provinces
Province 2011 2006
Newfoundland and Labrador 510 558
Prince Edward Island 1,495 1,700
Nova Scotia 3,905 3,795
New Brunswick 2,611 2,776
Quebec 29,437 30,675
Ontario 51,950 57,211
Manitoba 15,877 19,054
Saskatchewan 36,952 44,329
Alberta 43,234 49,431
British Columbia 19,759 19,844
Canada 205,730 229,373

26. How are Census of Agriculture data used?

Census of Agriculture data are used by:

  • farm operators, to formulate production, marketing and investment decisions
  • agricultural producer groups, to inform their members about industry trends and developments, to put the viewpoint of operators before legislators and the Canadian public, and to defend their interests in international trade negotiations
  • governments, to make policy decisions concerning agricultural credit, crop insurance, farm support, transportation, market services and international trade
  • Statistics Canada, to produce annual estimates between censuses for the agriculture sector
  • businesses, to market products and services and to make production and investment decisions
  • academics, to conduct research on the agriculture sector
  • the media, to portray the agriculture sector to the broader Canadian public.

27. Does the Census of Agriculture ask any questions that could be used to assess farming's impact on the environment?

Many of the questions on the census can contribute in some way to forming a picture of Canadian farms and the manner in which they shape the environment.

The Census of Agriculture asks questions about farming practices that conserve soil fertility and prevent erosion, pesticide and fertilizer use, and the land features used to prevent wind or water damage. There is a section on manure use, another on irrigation, one on tillage practices and one on baling crop residue. Data from these questions present a picture of farmers' relationship with the environment and, by evaluating and comparing the data over time, analysts can assess how operators are adapting their methods and fulfilling their role as stewards of the land.

Processing the data

28. Where will Census of Agriculture data be processed?

Once completed questionnaires are received by Canada Post, they go to a central processing centre in the National Capital Region where they are scanned and electronically imaged for data capture. Processing Census of Agriculture questionnaires includes many checks and balances to ensure high quality data. Its many steps—including several kinds of edits (clerical, subject-matter, geographic), matching and unduplicating individual farms, adjusting for missing data, validating data by comparing them to several benchmarks, and providing estimates—have evolved into a sophisticated system that ensures high-quality data. The data that emerge at the other end are stored on a database and used to generate publications and users' custom requests.

29. What steps are taken to ensure that all agricultural operations are counted?

In 2011, Canada Post delivered a Census of Agriculture questionnaire to addresses where it is believed a farm operator lives. The addresses are determined from the previous census and other agriculture surveys. Census of Population questionnaires were delivered by Canada Post as well, but may have been delivered by an enumerator in rural areas.

On the Census of Population questionnaire respondents are asked if there is a farm operator living in the household. This question triggers a follow-up from Head Office to help ensure that new farms are identified and counted.

Respondents were able to complete their questionnaires on paper, by telephone or via the Internet. Telephone follow-up will be conducted with those respondents who received questionnaires but did not return them.

In addition, the data processing sequence includes several safeguards that can find "missing" farms that were counted in 2006 but did not return a questionnaire in 2011 or, conversely, farms that did not exist in 2006 but have been identified on subsequent agriculture surveys since then.

30. When will the 2011 Census of Agriculture data be available to the public, and how can I keep track of releases?

First release: May 10, 2012 from the Census of Agriculture database. Interested data users can keep up-to-date on release dates through Agriculture Division's People, products and services directory. This document provides details on the 2011 Census of Agriculture and related products and services, including pricing and ordering information. Copies are available by calling 1-800-236-1136.

Statistics Canada's official release bulletin, The Daily, lists the full range of census data with highlights on major trends and findings.

Data from both the Census of Population and Census of Agriculture will appear in the general media and farm media. Users may also contact Census of Agriculture data and subject-matter consultation staff toll free at 1-800-236-1136.

31. Why does it take a year to release results from the Census of Agriculture?

The Census of Agriculture is a national activity that involves collecting information from every agricultural operation in Canada. The collection, follow-up, quality checks, processing, tabulation and publication of data from such an extensive operation take about one year.

All of these steps must be made to assure that data are accurate, even at very low levels of geography. This is critical since census data are used to benchmark estimates and draw survey samples between censuses.

32. For what geographic areas are Census of Agriculture data available?

Census of Agriculture data are available for Canada, the provinces and territories, and for areas corresponding to counties, crop districts and rural municipalities. User-defined areas are also available by calling Census of Agriculture data and subject-matter consultation staff toll free at 1-800-236-1136. All tabulated data are subjected to confidentiality restrictions, and any data that could result in the disclosure of information concerning any particular individual or agricultural operation are suppressed.

33. How is the quality of the data evaluated?

To ensure that data from the 2011 Census are accurate, control procedures are set up throughout collection and processing. Processing the data is a long and complex process. Its many steps—including several kinds of edits (clerical, subject-matter, geographic), matching and unduplicating individual farms, adjusting for missing data, validating data by comparing them to several other data sources, and providing estimates—have evolved into a sophisticated system that ensures high-quality data. The data that emerge at the other end are stored on a database and used to generate publications and users' custom requests.

When data are released on May 10, 2012, net undercoverage for the number of farms, farm area and gross farm receipts will also be available, based on an evaluation of Census of Agriculture coverage.

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