The 2021 Census of Agriculture - Frequently asked questions

Content modified September 2023

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

Any person responsible for operating a farm or an agricultural operation should complete 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 or agricultural holding that produces agricultural products and reports revenues or expenses for tax purposes to the Canada Revenue Agency.

Agricultural products include:

  • 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


  • 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


  • 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 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

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

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 operation produces agricultural products and reports revenues or expenses for tax purposes to the Canada Revenue Agency.

5. Why do operators of small operations have to complete 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. As a group, all the small agricultural operations contribute significantly to agricultural inventories.

6. How does the Census of Agriculture benefit farm operators?

When an agricultural operator completes and returns a Census of Agriculture questionnaire, it adds another voice to the quarter of a million answers that are reflected in census data. As a whole, 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 Statistics Canada conducts other agriculture surveys, only the Census of Agriculture provides data at the local level. Its community-level data ensure that the issues affecting farmers, farm communities and agricultural operations are included in the 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 storms) and react appropriately.

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

  • in the year 1971 and in every tenth year thereafter; and
  • 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.

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 not disclosed.

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 inventories and crop area, total 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. 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 of the agricultural sector in Canada.

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

12. 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.

13. How much does the Census of Agriculture cost?

The projected total cost for the 2021 Census of Agriculture over the six-year cycle is $49.4 million. An independently conducted Census of Agriculture would cost at least $12 million more in total than it does by combining it with the Census of Population.

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

In this particularly busy period, the arrival of the 2021 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 and processing. The timing of the larger Census of Population is driven by the need to maximize the number of Canadians who are home during enumeration.

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

In 2021, respondents must provide only total operating expenses and total sales for their agricultural operation on the Census of Agriculture questionnaire. In order to reduce the response burden for farmers, the detailed expense questions were removed from the 2021 Census of Agriculture questionnaire.

16. Why are other agriculture surveys conducted at the same time as the census?

Timely information on the agriculture industry is required by governments, other organizations and data users, therefore 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 takes 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.

17. What other agriculture surveys are being conducted during the 2021 Census window?

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

  • the Maple Survey (sample size approximately 600 in Ontario and New Brunswick)
  • the National Potato Area and Yield Survey (sample size approximately 250 in the Atlantic Region, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia)
  • the Fur Farm Report – Mink and Foxes (sample size approximately 150 nationally)
  • the June Farm Survey (Field Crop Reporting Series) (sample size approximately 24,500 nationally)
  • the July Livestock Survey (sample size approximately 11,000 nationally)
  • the Hay and Straw Prices Survey (Ontario only, sample size approximately 125).

18. How is response burden being reduced?

Offering farm operators choices in the way they respond to the Census of Agriculture—online, on paper with return by mail, 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. Furthermore, the collection window for agricultural operators is considerably expanded, allowing respondents the flexibility to complete the census at a time more convenient for them.

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

The 2021 Census of Agriculture recorded 189,874 census farms.

Table 1 Number of agricultural operations in 2021 and 2016, Canada and provinces
Province 2021 2016
Newfoundland and Labrador 344 407
Prince Edward Island 1,195 1,353
Nova Scotia 2,741 3,478
New Brunswick 1,851 2,255
Quebec 29,380 28,919
Ontario 48,346 49,600
Manitoba 14,543 14,791
Saskatchewan 34,128 34,523
Alberta 41,505 40,638
British Columbia 15,841 17,528
Canada 189,874 193,492
Source: Statistics Canada, Census of Agriculture.

Additionally, in 2021, there were 88 agricultural operations in Yukon and 8 in the Northwest Territories. In 2016, there were 142 agricultural operations in Yukon and 16 in the Northwest Territories.

20. 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 provide Canadians with 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.

21. What is different about the 2021 Census of Agriculture from 2016?

The 2021 Census of Agriculture questionnaire contains questions asked in 2016 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:

  • Agricultural production (filter questions): This is a new step, consisting of Yes/No questions that identify the commodity questions that are relevant to the respondent. It has been added to simplify responding and reduce the time needed to complete the census.
  • Direct marketing: Direct sales categories were expanded, as well as the methods of direct selling to include off-site farm stores or stands, direct deliveries to consumers, and Community Supported Agriculture/food baskets. A new question was added on percentage of gross farm receipts.
  • Succession planning: The succession question was expanded to include whether a written succession plan that is not in place has been discussed or not.
  • Greenhouse products: Subcategories were added for Greenhouse fruits and vegetables (greenhouse tomatoes, greenhouse cucumbers, greenhouse peppers, greenhouse herbs, and other greenhouse fruits and vegetables), cut flowers and potted plants split up into two subcategories. Examples were added of other products grown in a greenhouse.
  • Renewable energy producing systems: A definition for renewable energy was added. A question was added asking for the intended use of renewable energy produced on the operation (for use on operation or for sale).
  • Business information: A new step was added on the main activity.

A detailed explanation of other changes, deletions or additions to the 2021 questionnaire is available by step in the order they appear on the 2021 questionnaire. Please consult The 2021 Census of Agriculture in detail. These changes result from user consultations and scientific testing and also have the goal of reducing respondent burden. Some questions were slightly re-worded to make these questions more understandable and easier to answer.

22. 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 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.

23. Where/how will Census of Agriculture questionnaires be processed?

Questionnaires submitted online to Statistics Canada are captured automatically. Paper questionnaires, once completed, are received by Canada Post. The paper questionnaires then go to a central processing centre in the National Capital Region where they are electronically captured.

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.

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

In 2021, Canada Post delivers an invitation letter to complete a Census of Agriculture questionnaire on the internet to addresses where it is believed a farm operator lives. The addresses are determined from Statistics Canada's business register, populated from the previous census, agriculture surveys and other sources.

Respondents are able to complete their questionnaires via the Internet, or by telephone if assistance is required. Telephone follow-up will be conducted with those respondents who received invitation letters or questionnaires, but did not return them.

In addition, the data processing includes several safeguards that can find "missing" farms that were counted in 2016 but did not return a questionnaire in 2021 or, conversely, farms that did not exist in 2016 but have been identified on subsequent agriculture surveys since then.

25. When will the 2021 Census of Agriculture data be available to the public, and how can I keep track of releases?

The first release will take place on May 11, 2022 - All farm and farm operator variables for the 2021 Census of Agriculture will be released.

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 Statistics Canada general enquiries toll free number at 1-800-263-1136.

26. 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, validation, 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.

27. For which geographical 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 Statistics Canada general enquiries toll free number at 1-800-263-1136. All tabulated data are subjected to disclosure control restrictions, and any data that could result in the disclosure of information concerning any particular individual or agricultural operation are suppressed.

28. Are cannabis farms included in the Census of Agriculture?

Data for cannabis operations were collected for the first time by the 2021 Census of Agriculture. Due to the complexity of these operations' organizational structure and activities, these respondents were not able to provide responses that precisely captured the agricultural activity of cannabis cultivation in its entirety and/or disassociated from non-agricultural activities. Furthermore, the response rate for cannabis operations was low, and this consequently resulted in a high imputation rate. As a result, cannabis operations were excluded from the Census of Agriculture databases and its data releases. As an alternative, the Census of Agriculture published cannabis data extracted from administrative files received from Health Canada. These data provide the number of licensed cannabis cultivators and their production areas at the national and provincial levels of geography. Separate information is available for operations growing cannabis under cover and in open fields. Cannabis operations included in this release are not included in all other Census of Agriculture releases.