Census of Agriculture updates ag snapshot

During the first two weeks in May every farm in Canada will receive a Census of Agriculture questionnaire. On May 10 farmers across the country will help create an up-to-date picture of agriculture in Canada by completing and returning their census questionnaire.

The farmer of the 21st century works in an industry that is becoming more and more complex. Farmers wear many hats to operate a successful business: accountant, mechanic, carpenter, heavy equipment operator, and environmentalist. In addition to farming, an operator may also work off the farm. In short, farmers are busy people working in a dynamic and challenging industry.

The profile of Canada’s farmers is different than the general working population. Census information from 2006 tells us that farm operators have a higher median age than the comparable labour force population of self-employed workers, 52 and 44 respectively. Moreover, the group of farmers under 35 years old poised to move the industry into the future is a smaller one, representing only nine per cent of all farmers. Nearly 20 per cent of the self-employed workers in the general labour force were under 35. Among all workers in the general labour force, 40 per cent were less than 35 years old.

Then there’s technology: Advances in irrigation systems, breeding, biotechnology, disease control and soil conservation have made the farm more productive and efficient than ever before. Yet farmers in Canada are always looking for new opportunities because prices for most traditional farm commodities are in a long-term decline and, as analysis of census data indicates, many farms’ receipts don’t cover their operating expenses.

Agriculture is continually changing. The Census of Agriculture provides information on the many sides of this vital industry, from crop area to manure management to access to high speed Internet. The data ‘snapshot’ captured by the Census of Agriculture every five years highlights trends and new developments in agriculture. Although farms have been decreasing in number overall, down 7.0 per cent between 2001 and 2006, farms have been getting bigger. The average farm in 2006 was 728 acres, compared with 676 acres in 2001. Those with gross receipts of $250,000 or more accounted for 17 per cent of all farms in 2006, compared with 13.8 per cent in 2001 (at 2005 prices). The 2011 Census of Agriculture will give us more information on how, or if, this is changing.

The farm industry, as a whole, benefits from census data in many ways. For example, agricultural producer groups are guided by data from the census when informing their membership about industry trends and developments; putting operators’ viewpoints before legislators and the Canadian public; and defending their interests in international trade negotiations. Governments use census data to make decisions about crop insurance, agricultural credit policies, transportation, market services and international trade. Census information also helps other businesses market their products and services to farm operators and is a valuable tool when making production and investment decisions.

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