Canola area surpassed spring wheat area in Alberta

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The 2011 Census of Agriculture showed that canola area surpassed spring wheat area for the top spot among field crops in Alberta. Since 2006, canola area increased 49.2% to 6.1 million acres, while spring wheat area increased 3.5% to 6.0 million acres. Alberta reported the second largest area of canola in the country after Saskatchewan.

Largest reported cattle herd

As in 2006, Alberta continued to report the largest cattle herd in the country in 2011. The province experienced a 19.9% decrease in total cattle inventories, compared to a national decrease of 18.9%. Cattle inventories declined to 5.1 million head in 2011, down from 6.4 million head in 2006. Alberta accounted for 39.9% of the national cattle herd.

In line with the drop in cattle inventories, the area of land in hay and feed grains decreased in 2011. Hay area decreased 14.5% to 5.1 million acres. Despite this decrease Alberta continued to report the largest area of hay (30.2% of the national area) in Canada. Similarly, Alberta reported the largest area of barley in the country at 3.6 million acres, despite an 11.8% decrease. Oat area dropped 29.8% to 891,580 acres in 2011.

Gross farm receipts increased

Alberta’s gross farm receipts in 2010, the year prior to the census, increased 0.9% (at 2010 constant prices) to $11.4 billion, from 2005.  At the national level there was a 3.9% increase in gross farm receipts between 2005 and 2010.

Operators spent an average of 85 cents in expenses (excluding depreciation) for every dollar of receipts in 2010, about 4 cents less than they spent in 2005.

Oilseed and grain farm, and beef farm types accounted for 38.9% and 35.5% of total gross farm receipts respectively. The North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS) provides a framework for classifying farms based on the commodities they produce and the value of these commodities. The farm types presented in this document are derived based on this system.

Farm numbers decreased

The Census of Agriculture counted 43,234 census farms in Alberta, a 12.5% decrease since 2006. This compares to a 10.3% decrease at the national level. A census farm is an agricultural operation that produces agricultural products intended for sale.

Alberta accounted for 21.0% of Canada’s 205,730 farms in 2011, slightly lower than its share in 2006. Alberta’s total number of farms ranked second in Canada after Ontario.

More larger farms

According to the 2011 Census of Agriculture, the number of farms with $500,000 or more (at 2010 constant prices) of 2010 gross farm receipts increased by 18.0% between censuses, and those with less than $500,000 decreased by 15.1%. There were 4,454 of these larger farms in Alberta in 2011, and while they represented 10.3% of all farms in the province, they accounted for 70.6% of total provincial gross farm receipts reported for the year 2010.

Farm operators

Alberta reported 62,050 farm operators, 13.4% lower than in 2006, following the trend in the number of farms. In 2011, 29.0% of Alberta farm operators were women while nationally this percentage was 27.4%.

The average age of a farm operator in Alberta in 2011 was 54.5 years compared with 52.2 years in 2006. Nationally the average age of a farm operator in 2011 was 54.0 years, up from 52.0 years in 2006.

In 2010, 37.8% of all Alberta farm operators worked more than 40 hours a week on average on their farm operations, compared to 43.6% five years earlier. At the national level this percentage was 40.1% in 2010.

In 2010, 52.0% of all Alberta farm operators had an off-farm job or business compared to 54.6% in 2005. At the national level this percentage was 46.9% in 2010.

According to the Census of Agriculture, 32.8% of Alberta operators who were under the age of 35 on census day worked off-farm for more than 40 hours a week on average in 2010, compared to 27.9% of operators aged 35 to 54, and 12.8% of operators over 55 years of age.

Farm area

Total farm area in Alberta decreased 3.1% between 2006 and 2011 to 50.5 million acres. Alberta had 31.5% of the total farm area in Canada in 2011. Average area per farm was 1,168 acres in 2011, up from 1,055 acres five years earlier.

Of the total farm area in Alberta in 2011, 47.7% was cropland, an increase from the 45.6% reported in 2006. Farmers reported 24.1 million acres of cropland in Alberta in 2011, up from 23.8 million acres in 2006. The province accounted for 27.6% of cropland reported in Canada. Cropland is the total area reported in field crops, hay, fruits, field vegetables, sod and nursery.

Proportion of cropland, Alberta, 2006 and 2011
Table summary
This table displays the results of Proportion of cropland. The information is grouped by Composition of cropland (appearing as row headers), Percent of cropland** (appearing as column headers).
Composition of cropland Percent of croplandNote **
2011 2006
Field crops 78.6 74.6
Hay 21.3 25.2
OthersNote * 0.1 0.1

Almost all the cropland (99.9%) was reported as field crops and hay (Table 1). The proportion of field crops (including potatoes) increased to 78.6% in 2011 from 74.6% in 2006. Alfalfa and tame hay represented 21.3% of the cropland in Alberta, down from 25.2% in 2006. Increased prices for cash crops coupled with declining beef cattle and pig numbers led to a shift from forages and crops traditionally used for feed to more profitable cash crops.

Pasture land (tame or seeded pasture and natural land for pasture) accounted for 43.2% of total farm area in Alberta. Pasture land decreased 2.0% from 22.3 million acres in 2006 to 21.8 million acres in 2011 which is in line with the decrease in livestock.


Alberta reported 40.3% of the beef breeding herd (beef cows and beef heifers) in Canada in 2011. The beef breeding herd decreased 22.4%, to 1.8 million head in 2011.

In 2011, Alberta reported the majority (57.8%) of the feeder and slaughter cattle (steers and feeding heifers) in the country, with 1.5 million head, a 15.5% decrease since 2006. Similarly, the number of farms reporting feeder cattle dropped 23.0% to 9,191 farms.

The Canadian bison herd decreased 36.1% since 2006. Alberta reported the largest bison herd in Canada with 57,483 head, a 41.0% decrease since 2006. In 2011, Alberta accounted for 45.9% of the national bison herd.

Organic farms

According to the 2011 Census of Agriculture, there were 326 farms with certified organic and/or transitional production in Alberta. This represented 0.8% of all farms in the province. Nationwide, 2.0% of all farms reported certified organic and/or transitional production.

The predominant category of certified organic and/or transitional products reported in Alberta was field crops and hay and it was reported on 84.0% of the province’s 326 certified organic and/or transitional farms.

Other agricultural highlights in Alberta

  • In 2011, areas of several pulses and specialty crops increased in Alberta. Since 2006, dry field pea area increased 20.3% to 706,726 acres; lentil area increased 803.2% to 97,775 acres; and sunflower area increased 236.8% to 6,035 acres.
  • Corn for grain area increased 296.4% since 2006 to 17,148 acres in 2011.
  • Soybean area in Alberta increased 38.0% since 2006 to 3,693 acres.
  • Alberta reported the largest area of saskatoons in the country with 1,622 acres in 2011, up slightly from 1,587 acres in 2006.
  • Sod area increased by 7.0% since 2006 to 10,063 acres in 2011 and nursery area increased by 8.9% to 9,755 acres.
  • Alberta's greenhouse vegetable area increased by 32.8% since 2006 to 6.3 million square feet in 2011.
  • Total field vegetable area decreased 18.8% since 2006 to 10,716 acres in 2011. The largest field vegetable areas reported in Alberta in 2011 were sweet corn, green peas, and onions.
  • Alberta beekeepers reported the highest number of honeybee colonies in Canada, with 235,951 colonies in 2011 – more than 40% of Canada's total. Pollinating bees (excluding honeybees) more than doubled (111.6%) since 2006 to 189,510 gallons in 2011.
  • In Alberta, no-till methods were used on 64.8% of the land prepared for seeding in 2011, up from 47.8% in 2006. Conventional tillage decreased to 12.8% of land prepared for seeding, from 24.5% five years earlier. Conservation tillage was used on 22.5% of the land prepared for seeding, compared to 27.7% in 2006.
  • The 2011 Census marked the first time farm operators were asked to report the area from which crop residue was baled for bedding or sale. In 2010, crop residue was baled from 2.2 million acres in Alberta – the largest area reported in the country.
  • Alberta continued to report the largest area of land irrigated (65.2%) in the country in 2010 with 1.2 million acres, most of which was irrigated field crops and irrigated hay and pasture.
  • High-speed internet access was reported by 46.5% of all farms in Alberta, while the national average was 44.8%.
  • In Alberta 29.6% of all farms in the province reported paid labour for the year 2010. The census counted 37,852 paid employees, of whom 41.2% worked year-round in a full or part-time capacity while 58.8% were seasonal or temporary employees.

A snapshot in time

The 2011 Census of Agriculture is the most recent measure of the overall state of Canadian agriculture and its wealth of data provides a valuable snapshot of the sector. The census program provides a data continuum stretching back to 1921, while agricultural data has been collected since the first Census of Canada in 1871.

Since the previous Census of Agriculture in 2006, fluctuating commodity prices in certain sectors as well as changing costs of fertilizers, fuel, seed and livestock feed affected the farming community. The residual effects of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and avian influenza were also issues.

During the time the census was being collected in 2011, many farm operators were confronted with challenges related to flooding and exceedingly wet conditions in some regions of the Prairies.  However, many changes have since ensued, including favourable commodity prices in some sectors as well as continued evolution in global economic conditions, and some of these factors have benefited the Canadian agricultural sector. At the same time, many farm operators continue to adapt their production and farming practices to become more efficient and to respond to market factors and consumer demands.

These developments, as well as the dynamic and complex nature of the Canadian agricultural industry, are an important reminder that the Census is a snapshot of the agricultural sector that captures its state at a point in time, and does not measure the annual fluctuations between census years.

Statistics Canada would like to thank the farming community of Alberta for participation and assistance in the 2011 Census of Agriculture.

For further information regarding the Census of Agriculture, contact Statistics Canada's National Contact Centre at 613-951-8116 or toll-free 1-800-263-1136;

To enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Rosemary Villani at 613-951-2889, Census of Agriculture, Agriculture Division.


Census farm

An operation is considered a census farm (agricultural operation) if it produces at least one of the following products intended for sale:

  • Crops: Hay, field crops, tree fruits or nuts, berries or grapes, vegetables, seed
  • Livestock: Cattle, pigs, sheep, horses, game animals, other livestock
  • Poultry: Hens, chickens, turkeys, chicks, game birds, other poultry
  • Animal products: Milk or cream, eggs, wool, furs, meat
  • Other agricultural products: Christmas trees, sod, greenhouse, or nursery products, mushrooms, honey or bees, maple syrup and its products

The data for the Yukon Territory and Northwest Territories are not included in the national totals because of the different definition of an agricultural operation in the territories and confidentiality constraints. The data for the Yukon Territory and Northwest Territories are presented separately.

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Certified organic

An operation or products are referred to as "certified organic" when certification has taken place. Certification refers to the procedure whereby a certification body accredited by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency provides written assurance that products and production systems conform to specified requirements. Certification may be based on a range of inspection activities including verification of management practices, auditing of quality assurance systems and in/out production balances. (Source: Canada Organic Office Operating Manual)

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Transitional organic

Transitional organic refers to those who were in the process of undertaking the three-year process of having all or part of their operations certified organic at the time of the 2011 Census of Agriculture.

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Gross farm receipts

The Census of Agriculture measures gross farm receipts for the calendar or accounting year prior to the census.

Gross farm receipts (before deducting expenses) in this analysis include:

  • receipts from all agricultural products sold
  • program payments and custom work receipts.

The following are not included in gross farm receipts:

  • sales of forestry products (for example: firewood, pulpwood, logs, fence posts and pilings)
  • sales of capital items (for example: quota, land, machinery)
  • receipts from the sale of any goods purchased only for retail sales.

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2005 to 2010

Some data refer to a reference period other than Census Day. For example, for financial data the reference period is the calendar or accounting (fiscal) year prior to the census.

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Farm type

Farm type is established through a procedure that classifies each census farm according to the predominant type of production. This is done by estimating the potential receipts from the inventories of crops and livestock reported on the questionnaire and determining the product or group of products that make up the majority of the estimated receipts. For example, a census farm with total potential receipts of 60% from hogs, 20% from beef cattle and 20% from wheat, would be classified as a hog and pig farm. The farm types presented in this document are derived based on the 2007 North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS). The chart below shows how these derived farm types relate to NAICS.

Table summary
This table displays the results of Farm Type.
The information is grouped by Census of Agriculture derived categories appearing as row headers, and NAICS five-digit classes appearing as column headers.
Census of Agriculture derived categories NAICS five-digit classes
Dairy Dairy cattle and milk production 
Beef Beef cattle ranching and farming, including feedlots
Hog and pig Hog and pig farming
Poultry and egg Chicken egg production 
Broiler and other meat-type chicken production
Turkey production
Poultry hatcheries
Combination poultry and egg production
All other poultry production 
Sheep and goat Sheep farming
Goat farming
Other animal Apiculture
Horse and other equine production
Fur-bearing animal and rabbit production
Animal combination farming
All other miscellaneous animal production
Oilseed and grain Soybean farming
Oilseed (except soybean) farming
Dry pea and bean farming
Wheat farming
Corn farming
Other grain farming
Vegetable and melon Potato farming
Other vegetable (except potato) and melon farming
Fruit and tree-nut Fruit and tree nut farming
Greenhouse and nursery Mushroom production
Other food crops grown under cover
Nursery and tree production
Floriculture production
Other crop Tobacco farming
Hay farming
Fruit and vegetable combination farming
Maple syrup and products production
All other miscellaneous crop farming

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Farm operator

According to the census, a farm operator is any person responsible for the management decisions made for an agricultural operation as of May 10, 2011.

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