Census of Ag: Canadian ag is getting bigger and better with age

The 2016 Census of Agriculture was released today, providing an updated snapshot of the sector. The last 20 years have shown Canadian farms declining by a steady 10% in each Census period. That stability was upended this year, when the total number of farms declined by 6.0%, a pace cut almost in half from each of the previous four periods.

A move to more cropland

As I pointed out last week, the face of Canadian farms is changing. The efforts to find efficiencies have meant farms are getting larger in the Prairies, especially in Saskatchewan, where the number of farms continued to decline in 2016, but the average farm increased 7.0% in size.

The total number of Canadian farms in grains and oilseeds increased between 2011 and 2016 (from 30.0% in 2011 to 32.9% in 2016). They increased in most provinces except, most notably, in Saskatchewan, where they declined. But Quebec’s 17.1% increase (from 3,849 to 4,506 G&O farms) and Alberta’s 6.0% increase (from 12,692 to 13,451 G&O farms) helped spur a nationwide move to more area devoted to field crops. Increasing from a total of 69.7 million acres in 2011 to 78.5 million acres in 2016, the gain in field crop area was still most pronounced in the three prairie provinces. Some of that was due to area recovered from flooding as reported in 2011 and converted acres from hay and pasture to cropland.

Canola continues as the largest Canadian crop; the area devoted to soybeans (Manitoba) and pulses (Saskatchewan) both dramatically increased. The number of cattle and dairy operations declined as the number of other livestock farms (pig and poultry) increased. Canada’s dairy sector produced more with less between 2011 and 2016: milk production grew 8.7% with gains in productivity and despite fewer cows.

Who are Canada’s producers?

The farming population is, very slowly, aging. In 2011, the average age of a Canadian farmer was 54; in 2016, it was 55. And the number of young producers (operators under 35 years) increased everywhere except Newfoundland and Quebec. While they made up 8.2% of the total farm population in 2011, these youngest producers now make up 9.1% of Canadian producers. In Manitoba, young farmers comprised 10.8% of the province’s agriculture, up from 8.8% in 2011. The number of farms headed by males and females both shrank, but farms with one female operator were the only farms to increase in number between 2011 and 2016 (from 10,740 to 13,110 – or a 22.1% increase).

Rented acres increase

There’s now less owned land being farmed, falling from 64.6% in 2011 to 62.8% in 2016 – a decrease of 3.8 million acres. The number of overall acres rented or leased grew 8.8% between 2011 and 2016. Rented acres showed the greatest increase in Saskatchewan (from 14.7 to 17 million acres, or a 15.8% increase) and B.C., where an 11.7% increase – or almost 100,000 more acres – were reported as rented in 2016. Alberta saw close to an additional million rented acres in the same period, an 8.9% increase.

The Census of Ag contains lots of information about farm demographics and business information. Find out how you compare to Canadian trends!