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Sharp decline in number of farms in Alberta

Farm size
Farm receipts
Farm type
Computer use
Organic farming
Other highlights of Alberta agriculture

Sharp decline in number of farms in Alberta, according to 2001 Census of Agriculture

The number of census farms in Alberta declined sharply between 1996 and 2001, more than offsetting an increase recorded in 1996.

The 2001 Census of Agriculture counted 53,652 census farms in Alberta, a 9.1% decline during the past five years. This was lower than the 10.7% decrease at the national level, but the largest decrease since 1971. In 1996, there were 59,007 census farms in Alberta, a 3.1% increase from 1991 and the sole exception to a downward trend since 1941.

Even with this decline, Alberta still had the second-highest number of census farms among the provinces. Ontario was first with 59,728 farms, while Newfoundland and Labrador with 643 had the fewest. (A census farm is an agricultural operation that produces an agricultural product intended for sale.)

Despite the decline, Albertas share of farms nationwide has increased slightly since the last 2001 Census of Agriculture . In 1996, Alberta accounted for slightly over 21% of the national total. By 2001, that share had grown to just under 22%, ahead of Saskatchewan with slightly less than 21%.

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Farm size

While the overall number of farms in Alberta has been declining, the size in terms of area, herd sizes and gross farm receipts has been increasing. The average Alberta farm was 970 acres in 2001, up 10.2% from 1996.

Since 1996, Albertas total agricultural land has increased 0.2% to 52.1 million acres. It has 31% of the agricultural land in Canada, behind first place Saskatchewan. Area under crops increased 1.9% to 24 million acres, again the second largest area in Canada.

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Farm receipts

Albertas total gross farm receipts were $9.9 billion in 2000, while operating expenses reached $8.9 billion. While factors such as the commodities they produced, the prices they received and the weather they had to deal with made each farmers situation different, in general, expenses rose slightly faster than revenues. Five years earlier, at 1995 prices, receipts were $7.9 billion and expenses were $6.7 billion. (The 2001 Census collected information on gross receipts and expenses for 2000.)

Over the five-year period, prices farmers received for their products declined by 7.0%, while prices they paid for expenses such as fertilizer and fuel increased by 11.9%. Farmers, squeezed by increasing costs and declining value of many of the products they sold, had to increase farm productivity to keep the ratio of receipts-to-expenses favorable.

Alberta is the largest agricultural province in terms of gross receipts, accounting for 26% of the Canadian total. The next largest province is Ontario with $9.1 billion or 24% of the Canadian total.

In 2000, in Alberta, the ratio of operating expenses to gross farm receipts was 0.90:1; in other words, 90 cents of operating expenses were spent for every dollar received in gross farm receipts. This compares to 1995, when the expense to gross receipts ratio was 0.84:1. (Expenses collected on the Census do not include depreciation.)

While the number of farms with less than $250,000 of gross farm receipts fell by 13.4% between censuses, those with $250,000 or more increased by 35.6%. There were 7,006 of these larger farms in Alberta in 2001, and while they represented 13% of the farms in the province, they accounted for 73% of the total provincial gross farm receipts reported for the year 2000.

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Farm type

Cattle farms are the most common types of farms in Alberta accounting for 44% of all farms. Wheat, grain and oilseeds farms make up about one-quarter (24.7%) of the farms. There has been very little change in these shares since 1996.

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Computer use

The proportion of Alberta farms using a computer as a management tool nearly doubled between 1996 and 2001. About 41% of farmers in the province were using a computer to run their business on Census Day, compared with 23% in 1996.

In 2001, 78% of farmers used computers for bookkeeping, 72% for surfing the Internet, and about 69% used them for word processing 84% of farming operations with a computer used it for more than one application.

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Organic farming

For the first time, farmers were able to report on their census forms that they produced certified organic commodities. (In Canada, a farmer who wishes to become "certified organic" must apply to a recognized certification agency.)

According to the census, there were 197 certified organic farms in Alberta on Census Day, 0.4% of all farms in the province. Nearly three-quarters of the certified organic farms in Alberta reported field crops.

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Other highlights of Alberta agriculture:

  • The 2001 Census of Agriculture enumerated 6.6 million cattle, up 11.3% from 1996. Alberta accounts for 43% of the total cattle and calves in Canada. Its neighbour, Saskatchewan, accounts for 19%.
  • Dry conditions in Alberta in recent years have spurred a significant reduction in tillage. The more environmentally-friendly practices of no-till seeding or conservation tillage (tillage that retains most crop residue on the surface) were used on 63% of the land prepared for seeding in 2001 compared to 43% in 1996 and 27% in 1991. These practices were used on 11.6 million acres of seeded cropland. Conventional tillage (tillage that incorporates most crop residue into soil) was used on 37% of the land in 2001, a drop from 57% in 1996 and 73% in 1991.
  • Spring wheat, the largest single crop in Alberta, accounted for roughly 24% of Albertas field crop area and 28% of total spring wheat in Canada. Between 1996 and 2001, spring wheat area declined 9.9% to 5.8 million acres. Farmers moved away from traditional cereals to hay and pulse crops, such as dry field peas, in response to the increasing demand from the livestock sector and better prices for non-traditional crops.
  • Alberta increased its seeding of durum wheat 23.2% to 962,906 acres, reflecting the fact that durum does better than other grains in dry conditions. Similarly large increases were seen in the lands devoted to hay and other fodder crops. These increases in forages are in response to a growth in the cattle sector, a good hay export market and cattlemen growing more hay in response to recent droughts in parts of Alberta.
  • Potato acreage jumped 85.3% to 58,341 acres, moving Alberta to fourth place in area behind Prince Edward Island, Manitoba and New Brunswick. Potato acreage has been growing steadily over the past 20 years from 16,628 acres in 1981.
  • The total number of pigs in Alberta increased 17.2% to 2 million in 2001. On a provincial share basis, Alberta ranks fourth behind Manitoba. Quebec had the most pigs in 2001 with 4.3 million and Ontario came in second.
  • The total number of sheep and lambs increased 18.3% to 307,302 in 2001. Alberta was second only to Ontario in sheep and lamb numbers in 2001. The increase in sheep and lambs was driven by an increased domestic demand for lamb.
  • Some non-traditional operations have grown significantly. Bison numbers have more than tripled from 22,782 in 1996 to 79,731 in 2001. Albertas bison herd accounted for over one-half of the national total in 2001. Inventories of llamas and alpacas soared from 3,692 to 12,894, while the number of farms almost tripled.
  • The three Prairie Provinces accounted for almost 95% of Canadas 2,937 acres of Saskatoon berries, with Alberta at 52%, the main producer.

Statistics Canada thanks the Alberta farming community for participating in the 2001 Census of Agriculture.

A full statistical portrait of Canadian agriculture is available in The Daily, Statistics Canadas official release bulletin, by accessing the Agencys Website (/).

This press release contains data for the province, census agricultural region (CAR), census division (CD) levels only. The data for the lowest level of geography, census consolidated subdivision (CCS), will be available on June 12, 2002.

For more information on this release, contact Gaye Ward (613 951-3172), Census of Agriculture, or Media Relations (613 951-4636).

2001 2001 Census of Agriculture
 questionnaire 1996 2001 Census of Agriculture
About the Census of Agricuture All releases 2001 2001 Census of Agriculture

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