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February 2002     Vol. 3, no. 2

Farmers leaving the field

Geoff Bowlby

  • In 1999, farm employment as a main job plummeted 6% from 1998. In 2000, it dropped a further 13%. This was followed by another decline in 2001, so that by the end of the year farm employment was 313,000, a drop of 26% in three years.
  • While farm employment has fallen, output has not. In fact, the number of hectares planted with major crops has never been higher. Poultry, egg and milk production has increased in recent years. Only cattle and pig inventories have decreased since 1998.
  • Although widespread, the decrease in farm employment did not touch all provinces equally. Most affected were Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario, where main-job farm employment fell by 30% or more from 1998 to 2001.
  • Between 1998 and 2000, as main-job employment fell in agriculture, it rose in transportation (11%), manufacturing (12%), trade (11%), health and social assistance (9%), and education (4%)-the industries most likely to employ the skills of people living on farms.
  • Not only have principal farm operators switched out of farming as their main activity, but spouses and children appear to have moved to off-farm work as well. In 1998, in every 100 farming households, about 143 people were mainly employed on the farm. By 2001, this number had dropped to 131.
  • Farmers, in general, have not seen an increase in profits since 1996. Operating expenses have risen to all-time highs, offsetting the modest gains in cash receipts. As a result, net farm income was $2.6 billion in 2000, about the same as in the previous three years and only a fraction of the $11.1 billion high set in 1975. While some are undoubtedly being pushed off the farm by rising costs and low profits, farm bankruptcies have declined in recent years.
  • As a group, farmers are relatively old, with a large proportion approaching retirement.


Geoff Bowlby is with the Labour Statistics Division. He can be reached at (613) 951-3325 or

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