Ecological infrastructure for agriculture
- Over the 40 years from 1971 to 2011, farm area in Canada has declined (-6%) from 68.7 million hectares to 64.8 million hectares. The loss of 3.9 million hectares of farm area is equal to an area approximately the size of Vancouver Island in British Columbia.
- Canada has more than 50.5 million hectares of dependable agricultural land. 1 Most of this dependable agricultural land is found in the Prairies and Boreal Plains ecozones. 2 Farm area 3 located on dependable agricultural land has declined by 969,802 hectares more recently from 2001 to 2011.
- Settled area 4 on dependable agricultural land in Canada increased by 19% over a similar period (2000 to 2011). By ecozone, the largest increase occurred in the Mixed Wood Plains (which is bounded by three Great Lakes in the south and extends along the St. Lawrence River to Quebec City), where the settled area on dependable agricultural land grew by 128,030 hectares (+27%)—over half this growth came from the Greater Golden Horseshoe. 5
- In the Prairies ecozone, an area that stretches from the Rocky Mountains in Alberta to the Red River valley in Manitoba, farm area made up 86% of the total area. Further, cropland 6 accounted for more than half of total farm area in the Prairies ecozone.
Ecosystem goods and services from agriculture
- Agricultural ecosystems supported the production of more than 134 million tonnes of farm output in 2012, valued at $54.2 billion. The Prairie provinces were responsible for 63% of food and fodder crop production in 2012; Quebec, Ontario and Alberta accounted for 74% of livestock and poultry meat production; and Quebec and Ontario accounted for 70% of milk production and 55% of egg production.
- Natural and semi-natural areas on farms can supply many ecosystem services including habitat provision, water regulation and scenery. In 2011, woodlands and wetlands accounted for 8% of farm area, while natural pasture accounted for a further 23%.
- According to the 2011 Census of Agriculture, 3,272 farms in Canada reported owning honeybees not only for honey production but also to improve pollination.
Beneficiaries of agricultural ecosystem goods and services
- In 2011, the Canadian farm population was 650,395 or 2% of Canadians; however, the farm population represented 10% of the population in rural areas. From 1991 to 2011, the number of farm operators decreased from 390,875 to 293,925 or 25%.
- Primary agriculture—crop and animal production—accounted for 1.1% of Canada’s gross domestic product and 1.6% of employment in 2010.
- Over 70% of the food Canadians bought in 2010 was produced domestically. Canada is particularly self-sufficient for meat, dairy (including eggs), breads and cereals.
- The widespread adoption of no-till practices and the steady decline in the area of summerfallow land have resulted in cropland turning from a net source of greenhouse gas emissions into a net sink. 7 No-till involves direct seeding into crop residue, avoiding any mechanical tillage of the soil. No-till practices increased from 7% in 1991 to 56% in 2011.
- In 2011, soil nutrient testing was performed annually on 20% of crop farms while testing was done every two to three years on 36% of crop farms. Thirteen percent reported no soil nutrient testing.
- In 2011, 55% of crop farms used crop rotation as an alternative method of pest control, with more than half of the crop farms in Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta using this method to disrupt pest cycles.
- In 2011, 56% of livestock farms had pastures or grazing paddocks adjacent to surface water. This proportion was highest in Saskatchewan (74%) and lowest in Quebec (33%). In 2011, 15% of livestock farms allowed grazing livestock no access to surface water, 18% allowed limited access, and 35% allowed unlimited access during the grazing season.
- In 2011, 24% of farms had permanent perennial forages on erodible land, 20% used slow release fertilizer products and 18% added straw to improve soil condition. Cover or companion crops were seeded on 15% of farms and 9% planted winter cover or green manure crops after harvest.