Are Canada's Large Farms Really Different?

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By David Sparling and Pamela Laughland, University of Guelph and Verna Mitura, Statistics Canada


Canadian farms are growing and becoming more productive.  That trend has been going on for more than a century and the inevitable result - that Canada will continue to need fewer farmers - creates widespread angst.  Many lament the loss of Canada's small farms and look for ways to save them, but few pay attention to the trends among Canada's largest farms.  The largest farms, with annual revenue over $500,000, now account for the majority of agricultural production in the country, invest more in their businesses and are growing in numbers.  They also continue to be controlled predominantly by farming families.  Large farms are the future of most commercial farming in Canada and it is important to understand how they are changing over time.  

Analyses in the past have often grouped all farms with annual revenue over $500,000 into a single category, termed very large farms. However, the reality today is that many Canadian farm families would view $500,000 as relatively modest revenue; they measure it in millions. To better understand this group, Canadian farms with revenue of $500,000 and over have been further subdivided, as illustrated in Table 1.

Table 1 Number of Canadian farms by revenue class (2005 dollars), 1996 to 2006. Opens a new browser window.

Table 1
Number of Canadian farms by revenue class (2005 dollars), 1996 to 2006

A look at the farm numbers in Table 1 reveals just how rapidly the structure of Canada's agricultural industry is changing. In ten years, the number of farms with annual revenue of $2.5 million and over grew by 143%. The next category, at least $1 million but less than $2.5 million grew by almost 96%. In fact, the farm population in every sales class exceeding $250,000 grew between 1996 and 2001, and continued to do so from 2001 to 2006. The number of farms with annual revenue below $250,000 dropped by nearly 22% over the entire period as small farmers quit, sold or grew to a larger size. The trend to scale is undeniable, but is it justified financially?

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