Farm data nerds, the day is finally here! Canada’s 2016 Census of Agriculture results have arrived—along with some interesting shifts in the sector. Here are some highlights of the good, the bad, and the promising:
Farmers are getting older—and younger
Farmers 55+ is the fastest growing age group, with the average national age of operators edging up from 54 in 2011 to 55. This trend parallels the general population. On the other hand, this year we saw an increase in the number of farm operators under 35. This is the first time there has been an increase in farmers under 35 since 1991 when the number of young farmers started a steep decline, falling from 77,910 in 1991 to 24,120 by 2011. As of 2016, 24,850, or 9.1%, of Canadian farmers are under 35. Young Agrarians represent!
Women in ag keep growing
Women farmers are on the rise from 27.4% of operators in 2011 to 28.7% in 2016. That may not seem like a big leap, but in the 35-54 year age group, 30.7% of farmers are women, nudging us towards an increasingly female-focused farming future.
Fewer farms, but bigger
The sector continues the trend of consolidation, as the number of farms falls 5.9% while the average area per farm increased from 779 acres in 2011 to 820 acres in 2016. This is the lowest rate of decline in 20 years. As well, 6.9% more land is dedicated to growing crops, thanks to flooded land returning to production, a decrease in summer fallow, and conversion of marginal lands. The data reflects an increase in large scale farms over 2,000 acres, as well as an increase in farms under 10 acres. Across the mid-range, farm numbers continue to fall.
Biodiversity is on the rise
While canola is still the number one crop in Canada, accounting for 1/5 of all crops, farmers are branching out. In 2014, Canada was the world’s largest producer of lentils. The number of farms reporting field vegetables rose 10.3%, and most of the new farms reporting vegetables were small scale. Total field vegetable area in Canada increased 1% to 270,294 acres.
Farmers are selling direct
24,510 farms sold food directly to consumers. That’s one in eight farms nationwide growing strong relationships with the people who eat their food.
Farmers still struggle to make ends meet
44.4% of all farm operators do off-farm work, usually to supplement their income. Just over 3 in 10 (30.2%) operators worked an average of 30 hours a week, or more, off the farm. British Columbia had the highest incidence of off-farm work (51.1%), as well as the highest proportion of farms with total sales under $10,000.
Bigger herds, fewer producers
Across the board, Canadian farmers are producing more meat and dairy—with the exception of beef, which is trending to fewer producers with slightly bigger herds. Dairy production, pig farms, and hen and chicken operations all show growth.
A renewable commitment
In 2016, 5.3% of farms reported having a renewable energy-producing system on their operation. Of these farms, 85% had solar panels while 15.7% reported wind turbines.
It’s time to plan for the future
Even though farmers continue to get older, only 1 in 12 operations reported having a formal succession plan laying out how the operation will be transferred to the next generation of farmers. Corporations are more likely to have succession plans (16.3%) than sole proprietorships (4.9%).