New farmers & Food Policy in Canada – Survey Results

Posted by Michalina Hunter on May 14, 2019

Photo courtesy of

We dug up the results from a national new farmer survey conducted a few years ago. A paper was recently published on the study, and we want to share the results with you! Pour yourself a cup of tea and delve into the challenges and opportunities for Canadian farmers with us.

Below is a summary of the paper with a few highlights. Please download the whole paper for more detail here: New Farmers and Food Policy in Canada

New farmers and food policies in Canada

By Julia Laforge (Lakehead University), Ayla Fenton (Farmer and on Board of Directors, National Farmers Union), Virginie Lavalée-Picard (Farmer), Stéphane McLachlan (University of Manitoba)

Published in Canadian Food StudiesVol 5 No 3 (2018): Special issue: Building an integrated Food Policy for Canada

As the demographics of farmers are shifting, the ways agricultural and food policies affect and influence the decision-making and behaviours of new farmers is also changing. At the same time, there is growing interest in contesting and rebuilding Canadian food systems to address environmental and social injustices.

Many new farmers are interested in agro-ecological approaches to agriculture, including both ecological practices and community-based economies. This paper examines the findings of a national survey of 1,326 new farmers, to explore challenges and opportunities in the Canadian food and farming system, as well as the municipal, provincial, and federal policies that they recommended.

The Background

Trends in Canadian agriculture

Farmers do more than grow and raise the food Canadians eat every day; they contribute to the Canadian economy through local and international markets, they build rural and urban communities, and economies, and they can be environmental stewards. Yet there are signs that farmers and the Canadian food system as a whole may be on the brink of several major transformations:
  • The number of farms in Canada has been declining at an increasing rate for the past 70 years.
  • The average age of farmers has increased, and the number of farmers under 35 has decreased.
  • Less than 10%  of farms have a written succession plan, which could indicate a potential gap in farm renewal.
  • Despite these realities, farming is still considered by policy-makers to be an intergenerational activity with continuing farmers born into farm families with opportunities both to learn about farming as children and to access land through in-family farm transfer. This is simply not the case for many farmers today.
  • Land costs have increased, making it difficult for new farmers to afford land
  • The cost of inputs and equipment has increased.
Agroecology and food sovereignty movements are gaining momentum around the world and new farmers are a key part of bringing these movements to Canada, as they are more able to engage with new practices that their more established farming peers. New farmers are also often interested in developing community-based food economies and using agroecological principles.

New farmers and food policies in Canada

The Results

  • More urban youth are entering farming, and that many of these are women
  • 68 % of survey respondents did not grow up on a farm
  • 82 % of those with less than 10 years of farming experience did not grow up on a farm
  • Those who did not grow up on a farm were much more likely to engage in direct marketing, ecological production practices, and production of vegetables,  and niche products such as berries, mushrooms, and sheep/goat dairy.
  • They also tended to farm small parcels of land with a mode of 10 acres owned and 5 acres leased.

Top 10 obstacles for new farmers: 

  1. Affordability of land ownership
  2. Lack of access to capital/credit/other sources of financing
  3. Low profitability of the agricultural sector
  4. Lack of agricultural infrastructures (abattoir, storage facilities, etc.)
  5. Lack of security of demand, markets, or distribution channels
  6. Affordability of land leasing
  7. Food safety regulations
  8. Affordability of business related training (marketing, accounting, etc.)
  9. Lack of appropriate farmland in your region (size, quality, location, infrastructure, etc.)
  10. Lack of access to extension services

Top 10 existing programs for new farmers: 

  1. Informal farm workshops, field days, farm tours
  2. On-farm training (paid/unpaid apprenticeships and internship)
  3. Farmer-to-farmer mentorship programs
  4. Workshops and/or Conferences from NGOs
  5. Online educational resources (webinars, blogs, etc.)
  6. New farmer networking forums (online and in-
  7. Incubator farms or farmer schools
  8. College and/or University agricultural programs or courses
  9. Shared initiative (equipment sharing, collaborative marketing or distribution, shared sourcing, etc.)
  10. Farm transfer/succession planning programs

Top 10 policies and programs respondents believed would have the greatest impact on their success and should be developed: 

  1. Farmer-to-farmer mentorship programs
  2. Incentives for landowners to sell or rent land to new farmers
  3. Curriculum in primary and secondary schools to promote farming as a career
  4. Agricultural infrastructures (abattoirs, machinery coops, other)
  5. Direct marketing support and promotion (CSA networks, farmers markets
    associations, networking with chefs/wholesale purchasers, etc.)
  6. Government loan and grant programs
  7. On-farm training (paid/unpaid apprenticeships and internships)
  8. Informal farm workshops, field days, farm tours
  9. Scale appropriate food safety regulations
  10. Local food procurement legislation

New farmers and food policies in Canada

Recommendations for a national food policy to support new farmers

As its overall goal, we suggest that a national food policy should prioritize policies
that build a just and sustainable food system by integrating agroecological principles in its
mandate in order to build on the momentum of new farmers who demonstrated interest in both ecological farming methods and community-based markets, as demonstrated in our
survey results.

1. Protect agricultural land and ensure accessibility for new farmers

Accessing affordable and quality land was the most significant issue raised by respondents in the survey. New farmers need a national food policy that ensures farmland is protected against non-farm uses and farmland speculation, while being accessible to the new generation of producers.

  • De-emphasizing export agriculture and supporting local agriculture which has the potential to be more stable pricing for eaters as it not vulnerable to currency variability.
  • Develop a national farmland succession strategy.
  • Incentives and programs that facilitate and encourage the use and transfer of agricultural land from landowners to new farmers would help protect farmland. This may include providing federal incentives for landowners that sell or rent land to new farmers.

2. Ensure training and education are available and accessible

More funding and support for:
  • ecological farmers
  • farm internships
  • existing mentorship programs
  • incubator and experimental farms
  • urban farming demonstrations
  • organic research and technical support

3. Ensure financial resources are accessible to diverse farmers

Starting a farm is expensive due to the high costs of land, infrastructure, and equipment, but new farmers have difficulties accessing capital to finance the necessary investments.
  • As a federal crown corporation, Farm Credit Canada (FCC) provides financing to farmers, but its mandate needs to be realigned to support food sovereignty and make financing available to a wider diversity of new farmers engaging in different types, scales, and stages of farming operations. In particular, FCC could develop a national micro-lending program and a national grants program that support new farmer investments at the start-up or expansion phase.
  • Establish a national student loan debt forgiveness program for new farmers, as well as self-employment supports and benefits.
  • Promote direct marketing while re-evaluating regulatory regimes to reduce obstacles to direct marketing.
  • Protect supply management systems and farmer-controlled marketing boards by reforming new entrant programs, quota distribution systems, off-quota exemptions and other regulations to promote greater production diversity and to maximize the number of farmers involved.

4. Support shared infrastructure and scale-appropriate regulations

The uneven distribution of agricultural infrastructures and scale-appropriate regulations both restrict farm development and make it difficult for new agroecological farmers to produce healthy food.

  • Since the provinces must already follow Canadian Food Inspection Agency guidelines, there is the potential for a national food policy to re-evaluate regulatory regimes to ensure that they are not unnecessarily onerous to small-scale producers.
  • A national food policy should also create a provincially-administered funding stream to support the development of community-owned abattoirs, food hubs, cooperatives, and other enterprises that provide processing and amalgamation services to producers.

New farmers and food policies in CanadaPhoto courtesy of

Conclusion: Building food systems for all Canadians

Farming identities and behaviours are (re)produced through the power and knowledge
dynamics of the Canadian food system and neoliberal, productivist, and industrial influences have resulted in a trend towards fewer farmers and larger farms. However, the rise in female farmers is challenging these conventional farming narratives, as they are more likely to engage in agroecology while their very presence as women already disputes dominant farmer narratives. New farmers in this study are interested in building a lifestyle that meets their aspirations for a holistic approach to environment, social, and economic justice. However new farmers must still contend with systemic barriers including difficulties accessing land, applying for financing, and making a livelihood. Their engagement in farmer-to-farmer and other informal knowledge sharing, as well as their interest in direct marketing, provide an opportunity to build networks of both eaters and other producers that contribute to a larger food movement.
  • Integrating all levels of government, as well as non-governmental organizations and associations, is necessary to create a national food policy that will support new farmers.
  • A national food policy should support partnership and capacity-building among community organizations and local governments as they work towards protecting farmland, supporting new farmers, and increasing local food production. Funding to scale-up, expand, replicate and sustain successful programs should be made available alongside funding to innovate and experiment with community-based approaches to supporting new farmers.
  • The success and relevance of a national food policy for new farmers depends on having an open and ongoing process that incorporates a wide diversity of perspectives on food. For example, a national food policy needs to address ongoing issues regarding Indigenous land rights and self-determination. A national food policy also needs to take into consideration issues of racial justice and economic inequality that prevent some aspiring farmers from entering agriculture.
  • Using a food sovereignty and agroecology framework will help address these injustices by emphasizing the rights of farmers and other food workers, while also protecting the environment and resisting corporate, neoliberal, and productivist food and farming systems.
  • Finally, engaging new agroecological farmers means working with all food producers, whether they are agroecological, conventional, or both since it is only through working in partnership that the food system be transformed.

Looking for Farm Support?

Young Agrarians offers several of the programs and resources mentioned in this paper.