Census of Agriculture FAQS

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 storms) 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.

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 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 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.

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 2016 Census of Agriculture over the six-year cycle is $46.9 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.

14. 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 2016 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.

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

The Farm Financial Survey is conducted every two years. In 2016, the collection period is in July and August and coincides with the census collection period. To lighten the burden on respondents, overlap with other agriculture surveys is minimized and the sample size is reduced. In 2016 the sample size will be approximately 10,200 farms nationally.

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

In 2016 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 2016 Census of Agriculture questionnaire.

17. 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.

18. What other agriculture surveys are being conducted during the 2016 Census window?

Between mid-April and the end of June Statistics Canada conducts these 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 300 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).

19. 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.

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

The 2016 Census of Agriculture recorded 193,492 census farms.

Table 1 
Number of agricultural operations in 2016 and 2011, Canada and provinces
Table summary
This table displays the results of Number of agricultural operations in 2016 and 2011. The information is grouped by Province (appearing as row headers), 2016 and 2011 (appearing as column headers).
Province 2016 2011
Newfoundland and Labrador 407 510
Prince Edward Island 1,353 1,495
Nova Scotia 3,478 3,905
New Brunswick 2,255 2,611
Quebec 28,919 29,437
Ontario 49,600 51,950
Manitoba 14,791 15,877
Saskatchewan 34,523 36,952
Alberta 40,638 43,234
British Columbia 17,528 19,759
Canada 193,492 205,730

21. 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.

22. What is different about the 2016 Census of Agriculture from 2011?

The 2016 Census of Agriculture questionnaire contains questions asked in 2011 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:

  • Technology: A new step (section) was added to request the different technologies used on the farm.
  • Direct Marketing: A new step was added to collect information on direct marketing practices farms may have.
  • Succession Planning: A new step (section) was added on whether the farm has a formal, written succession plan, and if so, who the successor would be in that plan.
  • On-farm practices and land features: Several response categories were eliminated to reduce burden on respondents and to simplify the questions on manure, irrigation and land practices
  • Land inputs: A new response category was added: Trace minerals and nutrients (copper, manganese, etc.)
  • Organic: This category was simplified to reduce burden on respondents and to allow for emerging issues, such as succession planning, to be added to the questionnaire.
  • Renewable energy producing systems: A new step was added to collect information on which renewable energy producing systems, if any, are being used on farms.
  • Farm operating expenses: Only the total farm operating expenses is requested in 2016. All the detailed expenses have been removed from the questionnaire.

A detailed explanation of other changes, deletions or additions to the 2016 questionnaire is available by step in the order they appear on the 2016 questionnaire. Please consult “The 2016 Census of Agriculture in detail ”. These changes are a result of user consultations and testing as well as the goal of reducing respondent burden for 2016. Some questions were slightly re-worded in response to suggestions that doing so would make these questions more understandable and easier to answer.

23. 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.

24. Where will Census of Agriculture data be processed?

Once completed paper 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. Questionnaires submitted online to Statistics Canada are captured automatically. 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.

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

In 2016, Canada Post delivers an invitation letter to fill out 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 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 invitation letters or questionnaires but did not return them.

In addition, the data processing sequence includes several safeguards that can find “missing” farms that were counted in 2011 but did not return a questionnaire in 2016 or, conversely, farms that did not exist in 2011 but have been identified on subsequent agriculture surveys since then.

26. When will the 2016 Census of Agriculture data be available to the public, and how can I keep track of releases?

First release: May 10, 2017 from the Census of Agriculture database.

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.

27. 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.

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

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