CBC In Depth
Agriculture census
CBC News Online | May 15, 2002 Updated: August 5, 2004

Decline in number of farms

Canada's farms are losing ground. Statistics Canada reported that between 1996 and 2001, the number of farms in Canada has slipped to only 246,923. The 11 per cent drop is the fastest between censuses since 1971. But seven out of every 10 farms counted in the 1996 census still existed in 2001. Those that remained in business generally got bigger and some new farmers did get into the business. Approximately 50,000 new farms entered the agriculture sector since the 1996 census.

It seems that it is mostly the smaller farms that are dropping out of the industry, although these farms still comprise two-thirds of all farms in Canada. Almost half of farms with less than $25,000 in total revenue counted in the last census had left farming by 2001.

Farmers turn to livestock

Number of farms in Canada by province, 2001 and 1996
Source: Statistics Canada
Those who stay in the agriculture sector are showing increased production rates and, overall, are producing more with less. Wheat is still the most highly produced crop, covering one-third of all field crop area, but its numbers are slipping as farmers try out more profitable crops. Also, numbers show that more farmers are converting crop farms to combination crop and livestock farms due to the falling wheat prices and rising livestock prices. As a result, cattle numbers were up and are being used to serve the export market to the United States.

Hog numbers are up by 26 per cent, although farms with hogs are down by 27 per cent. International demand due to the low Canadian dollar and tariff reductions has made Canadian pork the pork of choice in Japan, Mexico and the United States.

Poultry numbers are also up, especially in Eastern Canada. Canadians are eating more chicken, at nearly 29 kilograms a year per capita. Egg consumption is also up from a low of 14 dozen per capita in 1996 to 16 dozen in 2001. Farmers reported 126.2 million hens and chickens in 2001. Ontario and Quebec are the top two producers.

Produce moves indoors

Canada's top five vegetables and fruits by number of acres used to produce them
2001 area (acres)% change (1996-2001)
Sweet corn87,696-6.3%
Green peas43,1326.7%
Source: Statistics Canada
Greenhouses have doubled in area since the last census, especially in southwestern Ontario. The majority of Canada's 18 square kilometres of greenhouse space is in this area. Flowers are still the dominant greenhouse product, but with consumers demanding fresh produce year-round, vegetables are catching up.

In the fields, sweet corn has dropped in surface area, but it is still Canada's leading vegetable in terms of area covered. Beans, which ranked fifth in the last census, have risen to third place, showing the highest increase in Canada's top five vegetables.

Grapes have flourished in Canada, increasing 41 per cent in five years – the largest increase in area of Canada's top five fruits. Blueberries have exceeded apples in area covered, but this is largely due to an increase in apple imports to ensure year-round supply.

Organic farming is becoming more popular with 2,230 farms, or one per cent of all farms, producing at least one certified organic agricultural product. Saskatchewan led the list with 773 certified organic farms, followed by Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia, in that order.

Cost of farming is up

Farming can be a tough, but lucrative, business. However, in the past few years, farmers have found that their expenses are rising while their profits are dwindling. Dairy farms have been spending the least in operating costs for every dollar of sales, spending 75 cents for every dollar. Cattle farms spent the most at 94 cents for every dollar in sales. However, the largest farms had the best ratio of expenses to sales, and the smallest farms had the worst. Total farm revenue was $38.3 billion in 2000, while operating expenses reached $33.2 billion. Five years earlier, revenue was $32.2 billion and expenses were $26.7 billion.

Farms in the North

The census counted 200 farms in the territories – 170 in the Yukon and 30 in the Northwest Territories. Nunavut had no farms as of 2001. Farms in the territories are smaller than in the south, averaging under 150 acres. Some farm operations in the Northwest Territories are unique because they commercially harvest wild animals. Reindeer, musk-oxen and horses are the most common animals found on territory farms. Farms in the Yukon tend to grow hay and have horses. Hay accounts for three-quarters of total field crops in the territories.

Farmers turn tech

The use of computers on farms has risen significantly since 1996, showing that more farms, particularly larger farms, are turning to technology. In 2001, computer use stood at almost 40 per cent, compared with 21 per cent in 1996. Eight out of 10 farmers who use computers are using them for bookkeeping. Seven out of 10 farmers surfed the internet for such information as commodity prices or weather reports. Other uses of farm computers were word processing, e-mail, crop record-keeping and banking, in that order.


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