Taking an agriculture census

A brief history
Questionnaire respondents
Timing of the Census of Agriculture
Types of data collected
Agriculture-population linkage database


A picture of Canada would be incomplete without important and current information about agriculture, which plays an important role in the Canadian economy.

The Census of Agriculture provides comprehensive information on topics such as crop area, number of livestock, weeks of farm labour, number and value of farm machinery, farm expenses and receipts, and land management practices. The most recent was conducted in conjunction with the Census of Population on May 10, 2016. Although the two censuses are very different, conducting them at the same time has several benefits. This chapter describes the Census of Agriculture and how it is conducted.

A brief history

The Constitution Act of 1867 (formerly the British North America Act) determined that a census would be taken every 10 years starting in 1871. However, rapid expansion in Western Canada at the turn of the century made a more frequent census necessary. Starting in 1896, a separate Census of Agriculture was taken every five years in Manitoba, and, beginning in 1906, in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

By 1956, rapid economic growth and development created the need for national demographic and agricultural information at more frequent intervals. In 1956, the five-year Census of Agriculture was extended to the entire country, and the Census of Population became a regular enumeration every five years. That year, the two started a long tradition of being conducted concurrently.

Although the Census of Agriculture and the Census of Population are conducted at the same time, they do have separate questionnaires. Most of the development, testing, processing, data validation and preparation for data dissemination for the Census of Agriculture and the Census of Population are handled by different groups within Statistics Canada. However, sharing the data collection and communications activities for both censuses streamlines procedures and reduces costs considerably. Another important benefit is that information from the two questionnaires can be linked to create the agriculture-population linkage database. This unique database provides users with information pertaining to the social characteristics of the farm population.

Questionnaire respondents

Anyone who operates a farm, ranch or other agricultural operation that produces at least one of the products intended for sale (listed in Figure 1), is required to complete the Census of Agriculture questionnaire.

Figure 1
Products intended for sale from an agricultural operation

Products intended for sale from an agricultural operation
Crops Livestock Poultry Animal products Other agricultural products
field crops
tree fruits or nuts
berries or grapes
game animals
other livestock
game birds
other poultry
milk or cream
sod, greenhouse or nursery products
Christmas trees
honey or bees
maple syrup products

Operators are defined as those responsible for the management and/or financial decisions made in the production of agricultural commodities. All operations, regardless of size, must submit a completed Census of Agriculture questionnaire. As a group, even very small operations contribute significantly to the agricultural community and economy. Since 1991, the Census of Agriculture questionnaire has expanded to include multiple operators reporting for one farm.

Timing of the Census of Agriculture

As in previous censuses, the 2016 Census of Agriculture data collection activities were conducted jointly with the Census of Population in early May.

Statistics Canada recognizes that for farmers this is one of the busiest times of the year. However, collecting the data at the same time as the Census of Population and combining public awareness campaigns—even though the two censuses are very different—streamlines procedures, ensures accurate coverage and saves millions of dollars.

In 2016 the censuses of population and agriculture used a method called 'the Wave' to deliver invitation letters, reminder cards and questionnaires at specific times throughout the collection period, to remind Canadians to fill out their questionnaires.

On May 2, (Wave 1) all known farm operations in Canada received an invitation letter to fill out their 2016 Census of Agriculture questionnaire on the internet using a Secure Access Code provided in the letter. If a paper questionnaire was preferred, the respondent could call the Census of Agriculture helpline to obtain the paper questionnaire by mail. Farm operators either completed and submitted an electronic form on the internet or mailed back the paper form directly to Statistics Canada in the National Capital Region.

Wave 2 has no specific Census of Agriculture activities. However, Census of Agriculture respondents receiving a Census of Population reminder card, might prompt a Census of Agriculture response.

Farm operations from Wave 1 that still had not responded received a Census of Agriculture questionnaire package in the mail as part of Wave 3.

Types of data collected

The 2016 Census of Agriculture questionnaire had a total of 183 questions on 16 pages. Respondents were only required to complete questions that applied to their agricultural operations; an average respondent answered about 20% of the questions. A series of 'skip' questions also helped the respondents move quickly through the questionnaire. The following is a list of the types of data collected:

  • CRA business number
  • type of operating arrangements
  • farm operator information
  • main farm location
  • size (area) of operation
  • land use and land tenure
  • area and type of field crops
  • area and type of fruits, berries and nuts
  • area and type of vegetables
  • area of nursery products and sod
  • area of Christmas trees
  • area and type of greenhouse products
  • area of mushrooms
  • number of maple taps
  • number of bee colonies and other pollinating bees
  • land management practices
  • chicken and turkey production and inventory
  • eggs produced
  • number of birds hatched in commercial poultry hatcheries
  • number and type of livestock
  • market value of land and buildings
  • number and market value of farm machinery by type
  • total gross farm receipts
  • total farm business operating expenses
  • value of forest products
  • total number of employees and number of employees paid on a full, part-time or seasonal basis
  • organic production
  • direct marketing
  • succession planning
  • renewable energy producing systems.

Agriculture-population linkage database

An important benefit of conducting the Census of Agriculture with the Census of Population is that the two can be matched or linked by computer. Since all farm operators also complete a Census of Population questionnaire, linking information from the two questionnaires provides a social profile of the farm population that includes information such as marital status, the language of farm operators and the size of farm families.

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