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Canada's Agriculture Day: Celebrating the work of farmers with statistics

Released: 2021-02-23

Today is Canada's Agriculture Day! It's an opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments and contributions of Canadian farmers and workers in the food industry, especially during the challenges of the pandemic. Canadian farmers have been working harder than ever to ensure the stability of the food supply chain and to maintain the supply of agricultural products to local and international markets.

The collection of agricultural statistics has a long history in Canada, and it continues with the support of farmers, key stakeholders, local governments and agricultural associations. New technologies, alternative data sources and innovative modelling strategies are now being used to generate numerous statistics about agricultural commodities, food, land use, farm finances and much more.

Canada has nearly 270,000 workers in agricultural industries, including 55,000 temporary foreign workers

Many people earn a living in agricultural operations; in 2018, Canada employed approximately 268,000 agricultural workers who produced a wide variety of grain, livestock and commodities that contributed to the food safety of Canadians through a strong value chain.

The primary agriculture sector grew by 4.5% in real terms from November 2019 to November 2020, against the backdrop of a 2.8% decline for the economy as a whole. Agriculture accounted for 2.1% of total gross domestic product in November 2020 and is a strong driver of economic activity in rural areas. In January 2021, the primary agriculture sector accounted for nearly 9% of total employment in regions considered to be rural.

The agriculture sector is highly dependent on temporary foreign workers. In 2018, they filled nearly 55,000 jobs, representing one-fifth of total employment in the sector. The proportion was particularly high in greenhouse, nursery and floriculture production; vegetable and melon farming; and fruit and tree nut farming (where they accounted for at least one-third of total workers). More information on the role of temporary foreign workers in Canadian agricultural industries and the issues they faced during the pandemic can be found in this study.

Thanks to Canadian farmers who respond to our surveys, Canada has a wide variety of agricultural statistics

Thanks to farmers who answer our surveys and the Census of Agriculture, Statistics Canada regularly produces statistical information on a wide variety of agricultural products. This information can be used to understand how farmers contribute to the Canadian economy and to the food security of Canadians.

For example, a recent infographic indicated that, in 2019, Canadian farmers produced 32.3 million tonnes of wheat, 2.17 million tonnes of pork, 1.30 million tonnes of chicken and 1.26 million tonnes of beef, as well as a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and dairy products. Readers interested in accessing more statistics are invited to consult the Agriculture and Food Statistics web portal, as well as the Agriculture Stats Hub.

The COVID-19 pandemic posed numerous challenges for agricultural producers, including labour shortages, safety regulations, transportation challenges and other issues that impacted the industry. Fruit and vegetable sales, for example, were down slightly in 2020 from the previous year (-0.8% to $2.5 billion). Harvest area for fruits and vegetables also fell by 1.4%, to 180 815 hectares. Over the next few months, Statistics Canada will produce a series of data releases for the year 2020 that will provide a full picture of the way the industry has been impacted by the pandemic.

That said, recent information suggests that 2020 was a relatively strong year for the production of several crops, thanks to higher seeded areas, relatively good weather and better yields. In fact, Canadian farmers produced more wheat (+7.7%), soybeans (+3.5%), corn for grain (+1.2%), barley (+3.4%) and oats (+8.2%) in 2020, while canola production was down from 2019 (-4.5%).

Increased production of these crops aligned with an opportunity to increase marketing, as decreases in rail use by the petroleum sector allowed greater capacity to get these grains to market. As a result, farm cash receipts for crop farmers were up for the first three quarters of 2020.

Even though a large proportion of Canadian agricultural production is intended for domestic consumption, Canada is a net exporter of food. On a customs basis in 2020, Canada exported $44.0 billion worth of farm, fishing and intermediate food products, and posted a positive net export value of $22.5 billion in this category. Farm, fishing and intermediate food products accounted for 8.4% of total Canadian exports. The United States remained Canada's most important trading partner in this category of products (37% of exports), followed by China (16%).

For more information about the commodities available for consumption in any given year, readers are invited to access our data tables on food availability in Canada.

2021 is a census year for farmers

The Census of Agriculture will be conducted in 2021 at the same time as the Census of Population, allowing the public to see a snapshot of the state of agriculture and its importance in Canada. The previous census counted 193,492 farms in 2016 and showed that the decline in number of farms had slowed, compared with other census periods.

Statistics Canada's Census of Agriculture is an important tool that helps farmers see emerging trends in agricultural technologies and practices. It is also a vital source of community-level data that includes the unique perspectives of farmers, farm communities and agricultural operations that are affected when decisions about them and their livelihood are made.

To support farmers at this busy time of year and to help reduce their reporting burden, steps have been taken to make the 2021 questionnaire quicker and easier to complete. This means that only questions relevant to each operator's farm will be included in the online census questionnaire. It also means that selected questions may be replaced using high-quality alternative data sources when available.

Statistics Canada's ongoing commitment to reduce the response burden of farmers

In an attempt to reduce the response burden on farmers while continuing to provide quality statistical information, Statistics Canada launched an initiative to move beyond a survey-first approach. This was done by using alternative data such as Earth Observation and tax data, and advanced technologies such as modelling and machine learning, to replace traditional surveys.

For example, in July 2019, the agency implemented a new crop yield model for the July 2019 Field Crop Survey in Manitoba, using satellite imagery and administrative data. This resulted in fewer survey questions for respondents and also provided a value-added product to the crop insurance agency for its operations. The goal is to expand this model to as many provinces as possible by 2022, depending on the availability of administrative data such as crop insurance data. Other initiatives also resulted in better, more timely estimates for the number of agriculture employees and temporary foreign workers in agriculture businesses, without making direct contact with farmers. New data-replacement projects will soon contribute to further diminishing the response burden of farmers.

Through this process conducted in collaboration with partners and stakeholders, Statistics Canada will continue to provide the same high-quality information while applying the same rigorous privacy and confidentiality standards that Canadians expect and deserve. You can read more about this initiative in the StatCan Blog: Reducing the response burden imposed on farmers and businesses.

Contact information

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact us (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 514-283-8300; STATCAN.infostats-infostats.STATCAN@canada.ca) or Media Relations (613-951-4636; STATCAN.mediahotline-ligneinfomedias.STATCAN@canada.ca).

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