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2001 Census of Agriculture - Canadian farm operations in the 21st century
Today's data release from the 2001 Census of Agriculture provides the latest snapshot of the agriculture industry. A detailed analysis of the farm characteristics in the agriculture sector, as portrayed by the Census, is available in Canadian farm operations in the 21st century on Statistics Canada's Web site ().
Since 1996, the number of farms has declined almost 11%, continuing a trend that first emerged 60 years ago when Canada's farm numbers started a downward slide from their 1941 peak. On May 15, 2001 - Census Day - 246,923 farms in Canada met the census definition of a farm. This is the fastest percentage decline between censuses since 1971. The census includes farms of all economic sizes, from hobby farms to large corporations. But while farms are fewer, the average farm is getting bigger.
Behind the data are the events and trends - domestic and global economic factors, technological changes and innovations, changing consumer tastes, the weather and other environmental issues - that add colour and context to the numbers. Unlike the census, which canvasses agricultural operators once every five years, these factors shift and change at unpredictable intervals and farmers must react quickly, precisely and prudently to survive economically. Responses are as varied as the individual operations.
New farms continue to enter sector
For every 10 Canadian farm operations that "counted themselves in" in 1996, 7 still existed in 2001, while 3 had left the agriculture sector. Yet new operations are still entering the sector: about 50,000 new farms since 1996. Farm operations that remained in business from one census to the next generally expanded their production, with higher average crop area or livestock numbers per farm.
Farm operations of all sizes are leaving, although as a group those with gross receipts less than $100,000 are showing the fastest rate of departure. Just under half of farms with less than $25,000 in receipts that were counted in 1996 had left farming by 2001. In the larger receipts classes there was less turnover. In 2001, farms with receipts under $100,000 still represented two-thirds of all farms.
Adjustment and adaptability key to success
Farmers are also not immune to the demographic factors that affect the rest of the population. Although 2001 data on farm operators are not yet available, 1996 data show that farmers over the age of 55 are concentrated in the same receipts classes that have the fastest rate of departure.
For older farmers, it becomes a choice of whether to get bigger or leave, either because they want to retire from farming or because they have been edged out of the industry by rising costs and falling profits. Farmers sell or rent out their land to other operators when they stop actively farming.
For those that remain, adjustment and adaptability are key to success. Their increased production suggests they are finding ways to keep ahead of the economic tide. Overall, farmers are producing more with less.
Production is up
Farmers are raising more cattle, hogs and poultry than ever before and are devoting more land to crops. Farmers haven't found more land, they are converting unproductive land - in fallow - to cropland, either in marketable crops or those that can be used to feed the increasing numbers of livestock. For the same reason, unimproved pasture is being managed to improve its feed value.
Wheat is still king, although its crown is slipping. Greenhouse area is expanding to unprecedented levels. Farmers have shifted to different commodities and the average farm size is increasing. In some parts of the country, combination livestock and crop operations are replacing crop farms, driven by the economic advantages of diversification and "value added" processes. Among livestock operators, less traditional animals are increasing in popularity.
Export markets strong for many products
Increased export markets for many products, including live pigs and cattle, and pork, beef, oilseeds, pulse crops (such as dry field peas, beans and lentils), wines, forage seeds and hay are reflected in the 2001 Census of Agriculture data. Since 1996, dry field beans, one of the pulse crops, has increased its area fivefold. Oilseeds, particularly soybeans, have also shown dramatic increases between censuses. Wheat, still the dominant crop with nearly one-third of all field crop area, is less common as farmers respond to market conditions and try different, more profitable crops. In 2001, for every acre in wheat, 2.3 acres were in all other field crops, compared with 1.8 acres in 1996.
Land management practices changing dramatically
Land management practices are changing dramatically, particularly in the West, where farmers are using more low- or no-till seeding methods, allowing them to put less land in fallow and more in production. Pastureland is being improved to increase its value and utility to livestock operations.
Wheat farmers pressed from several directions
Grain transportation issues continue to be a serious concern for Prairie farmers. One factor was the 1995 legislative change that phased out the Western Canada Grain Transportation Act, successor to the Crow Rate, which had helped offset farmers' transportation costs in getting their grain to the nearest port. Falling wheat prices effectively increased the share of income wheat farmers had to pay to move their grain. Meanwhile, livestock prices were rising and many Prairie farmers reacted by changing course. Census numbers show that the crop sector adjusted to these economic pressures by moving into other crop varieties or entirely different commodities.
Livestock numbers up
Cattle numbers were up in 2001, partly in response to market demand and partly as farmers - looking for ways to cut grain transportation costs - realized it was economically advantageous to feed their large supply of competitively priced grains to cattle and export the animals. Many of the additional 673,000 cattle in Alberta, Canada's beef province, serve the voracious export market to the United States.
One of the most significant increases shown by the census was the 26% jump in hog numbers since 1996, while the number of farms reporting hogs fell by nearly 27%. International demand, particularly from the United States and Japan as well as new markets such as Mexico, was partly responsible for the increase. A number of tariff reductions, combined with the relatively low Canadian dollar and plentiful supplies of feed grain, have made Canadian pork increasingly attractive to international markets.
Greenhouses and grapes dual success story
Greenhouse expansion is another success story, and a full 18 square kilometres in Canada, most of it in southwestern Ontario, is now under some sort of cover. This is more than double the area in 1991.
Grapes, a relatively small commodity in terms of area, have made a large impact since the industry was transformed by the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement in 1988. Since 1996, grape area has increased 41%, the largest relative increase in area of the top five fruits grown in Canada.
Margin between expenses and receipts narrows
Despite increased production, some farmers are being economically squeezed as the margin between operating expenses and gross farm receipts narrows in most provinces. For individual farmers, the ratio of expenses to gross farm receipts depends on many factors, but farm size and type seem to be two that distinguish those most successful in keeping a favourable financial balance. Beef cattle farms had the narrowest operating margin at 94 cents in expenses for every dollar in revenue and dairy farms had the widest at 75 cents to the dollar. Operations with between $100,000 and $250,000 in receipts tended to have the best ratio of expenses-to-sales of all classes, at 81 cents to one dollar in sales. Small farms, those with $25,000 or less in receipts, had a less favourable ratio of $1.68 in expenses to one dollar in sales.
This is the first of three data releases from the 2001 Census of Agriculture. Subsequent reports will produce a statistical portrait of the men and women who run the farms, and their families.
Farm data: Initial release (95F0301XIE, free) is now available on Statistics Canada's Web site (). From the Our products and services page choose Free publications then Agriculture.
For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Gaye Ward (613-951-3172), Census of Agriculture, or Media Relations (613-951-4636).