Competition keeps farms expanding
While the modern farm operators may still live at their agricultural operations, farming has evolved into an innovative career choice requiring knowledge of business management and technology, as well as the agricultural sciences.
Driven by competition and aided by technology, the number of Canadian agricultural operations is decreasing and the agricultural operations that remain are larger and more capital intensive.
The 2016 Census of Agriculture recorded 193,492 agricultural operations, down 5.9 per cent from 2011, and 271,935 farm operators, a decline of 7.5 per cent.
While there are fewer agricultural operations and farm operators, agricultural operations are getting larger and using more of Canada’s available agricultural land to grow crops. The area of cropland increased by 6.9 per cent from 2011 to 93.4 million acres in 2016.
The average age of a Canadian farmer increased from 54.0 to 55.0 years from 2011 to 2016, with farmers aged 55 to 59 accounting for the largest share of farm operators. However, the number of operators under the age of 35 increased by 3.0 per cent from 2011 to 2016, despite the total number of operators decreasing. This is the first time that there has been an increase in this age category since 1991.
Young farmers more likely to rent land
In 2016 the average value of land and buildings was $2,696 per acre, which is an increase of 38.8 per cent from 2011.
This cost is ever increasing, and can be a barrier to starting or expanding an agricultural operation. The majority of farmland was owned in 2016, but it is a smaller proportion of total farmland than it was in 2006.
Over time, farmers have increased their farm size through the use of land that they do not own. This includes renting land, crop sharing and leasing land from governments. Starting or growing an agricultural operation requires a significant investment, and choosing to rent land can be a more flexible and less capital-intensive way for farmers to establish their operations.
The total area rented from others was 40.1 million acres in 2016, including land rented from other farm operators or from non- operating landlords. Of agricultural operations where all operators were under the age of 35, 50.6 per cent rented land from others, compared with 35.1 per cent of all agricultural operations. On agricultural operations that used only rented land, the average operator age was 46.0 years, 9 years younger than the national average.
Another way farmers acquire land is through crop- sharing, which totalled 4.5 million acres in 2016. This practice involves both the landowner and the farmer sharing in the risk and the rewards from the crop harvested from the land.
Some farmers opt to lease land from the government. Crown land is often used to pasture animals. In some provinces such as British Columbia and Alberta, Crown land can be paid for based on the number of animals a farmer or rancher intends to pasture instead of paying for a specific number of acres. Land leased from governments totalled 21.2 million acres in 2016.
More women operators
There were 271,935 farm operators in 2016 and almost three-quarters of them were male (71.3 per cent). However, the proportion of female farm operators increased from 27.4 per cent in 2011 to 28.7 per cent in 2016, continuing the long-term trend since 1991 when they accounted for 25.7 per cent of farm operators.
From 2011 to 2016, the proportion of agricultural operations with only male operators decreased from 61.4 per cent to 60.1 per cent, while the proportion of agricultural operations with only female operators increased from 5.6 per cent to 7.2 per cent. This is a shift from 1991 when 64.7 per cent of operations had only male operators and 3.9 per cent of operations had only female operators. In 2016, 32.7 per cent of agricultural operations had at least one male and one female operator, up from 31.4 per cent in 1991.
In 2010, 40.1 per cent of operators worked more than 40 hours per week on the farm, while 31.5 per cent worked less than 20 hours per week. By comparison, in 2015, 37.5 per cent of operators worked more than 40 hours and 32.7 per cent worked less than 20 hours per week on the farm. This varied by age group in 2015, when 41.1 per cent of operators under the age of 35 worked more than 40 hours per week, compared with 28.3 per cent of operators aged 70 or older.
Not only did the number of operators working more than 40 hours on the farm decrease, but the share of operators working off the farm decreased from 46.9 per cent to 44.4 per cent. This also varied by age group in 2015, when 58.2 per cent of operators under the age of 35 worked off the farm, compared with 14.6 per cent of operators aged 70 or older.
In 2015, the total number of agricultural employees was down 5.8 per cent compared with 2010. There has been a shift towards hiring year- round employees (full-time and part-time) in place of seasonal and temporary employees.
There were 193,492 agricultural operations covering 158.7 million acres in 2016, with an average farm size of 820 acres.
In 1971, there were 366,110 agricultural operations covering 169.7 million acres, with an average farm size of 463 acres.
From 1971 to 2016, the number of agricultural operations in Canada decreased by 47.1 per cent and the total farm area decreased by 6.4 per cent.
Despite the decrease in total farm area, the total area of cropland increased from 68.8 million acres in 1971 to 93.4 million acres in 2016.
The average number of acres of cropland per agricultural operation increased from 425 in 2011 to 483 in 2016. Cropland accounted for 58.8 per cent of total farm area in 2016. The total area used for pasture (natural or seeded) declined by 4.4 per cent as farmers switched from livestock production to crops.
From 2011 to 2016, the total area of land seeded using no-till technology increased by 16.8 per cent to 48.2 million acres.
Aug. 10 there will be no Tea Talk due to the Williamstown Fair. But the Wine and Cheese is soon upcoming. It will be held Wednesday, Aug. 23 from 7-9 p.m. at the museum.