Planning for the next census begins even before the current census cycle is finished. A series of workshops were held across Canada in 2007 with users and stakeholders such as federal departments and provincial ministries, agricultural associations, academics and agriculture service providers. Users subsequently submitted recommendations for the types of questions they would like to see on the 2011 Census questionnaire. The recommendations received through these submissions were used to develop the content and design of the census questionnaire.
Evaluating the suggestions
Before going any further, the submitted recommendations had to meet certain criteria before being judged suitable for inclusion in the Census of Agriculture:
- Is this topic of national interest?
- Are data worthwhile at more detailed geographic levels than provincial or national?
- Will farmers easily understand the question?
- Can the question be answered—that is, do the farm operators have the information to answer the question?
- Will farm operators be willing to answer it?
- Will there be a broad demand for the data generated by the question?
- Can the question be answered by either “Yes,” “No,” or a quantitative response?
Questionnaire content and development
Although the questionnaire is updated every census to reflect users' changing requirements as identified through the submission process, certain questions appear on every census. These questions—such as those on farm operators, land area, livestock numbers and crop areas—are considered essential by Statistics Canada and other major users of Census of Agriculture data. Repeating basic questions allows the census to measure change over time, while adding new questions and dropping others allows data to be collected that reflect new technologies and structural changes in the agriculture industry. For example, the questions on manure management practices were tested and improved to reflect operators' use and understanding of farming terms and practices on operations today. Other sections also modified and refined were those on land use, hours of work on and off the farm, area for which crop residue was baled, poultry, wages and salaries, computer use and organic production.
New or changed questions were developed in Head Office in consultation with industry experts and tested a number of times with farm operators across Canada through one-on-one interviews on their farms and in focus groups. Farm operators selected for testing 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. Respondent burden, content-testing results, user priorities and budgets were all taken into consideration in determining the final content of the 2011 Census of Agriculture questionnaire. It was approved by Cabinet in the spring of 2010.