Ag census logs more younger and female farm operators

(Photo courtesy Canada Beef Inc.)

While people age 55 and over still make up the fastest-growing segment of farmers in Canada, the latest Census of Agriculture shows slightly more producers under age 35 for the first time in five censuses.

Statistics Canada’s 2016 Census of Agriculture, released Wednesday, counted 271,935 farm operators — that is, people who make management decisions on an agricultural enterprise — on agricultural operations, down from 293,925 at the previous census in 2011.

Of those, StatsCan said, operators under 35 years of age accounted for an increasing share of total operators and their absolute numbers also rose, from 24,120 in 2011 to 24,850 in 2016, for the first absolute increase in that age bracket of operators since 1991.

Women also accounted for an increasing share of operators in 2016, at 77.970, or 28.7 per cent, up from 27.4 per cent in 2011. Of farm operators aged 35-54 years, women made up 30.7 per cent, followed by age 55-plus (27.7 per cent) and under 35 (26.4 per cent).

The average age of operators rose from 54 in 2011 to 55 in 2016 — a trend StatsCan said “parallels the aging of the general population.”

The 2016 census also found that 44.4 per cent of all operators did some off-farm work, “usually as a means of supplementing their total income,” StatsCan said, with 30.2 per cent of operators working off-farm an average of 30 hours a week or more.

Unsurprisingly, the census showed continued consolidation in the ag sector, with 193,492 farms in 2016, down 5.9 per cent from 2011. However, StatsCan noted, the decrease marks the lowest rate of decline in 20 years.

The average area per farm increased from 779 acres in 2011 to 820 in 2016. Farm size “varied considerably” based on region and farm type, with the largest on average found in Saskatchewan (1,784 acres) and the smallest on average in Newfoundland and Labrador (174 acres).

Area dedicated to cropland rose 6.9 per cent from 2011, to 93.4 million acres in 2016, as land flooded during the 2011 census was back in production, summerfallow decreased and “marginal land” was converted to crops. While cropland grew, StatsCan noted, woodlands and wetlands as well as pasture decreased.

Field crop area grew from 69.7 million acres in 2011 to 78.5 million acres in 2016, while hay and alfalfa cropland declined 16.6 per cent, or 2.8 million acres) and pasture decreased by 4.4 per cent, or 2.2 million acres.

Oilseed/grain-type farms remained the most common type, increasing from 30 per cent in 2011 to 32.9 per cent in 2016. In the Prairie provinces, 46.3 per cent of farms fell into this farm type. Next up, beef-type farms accounted for 18.6 per cent of agricultural operations, up from 18.2 per cent in 2011.

Canada’s total farm area slipped 0.9 per cent, from 160.2 million acres in 2011 to 158.7 million acres in 2016.

“Shifts in tenure” accounted for some of that decline, as rental agreements tend to cover only productive land, StatsCan noted.

Value of land and buildings used by agricultural operations increased 37.5 per cent, from $311.2 billion in 2011 to $427.9 billion in 2016 (all value increases are in 2016 constant dollars).

Land and building values varied across the country, however, ranging from an average of $1,210 per acre in Saskatchewan to $9,580 per acre in Ontario; the national average value sat at $2,696 per acre.

Farmers also continued to report larger and more expensive equipment; tractors over 149 pto horsepower rose from 85,681 in 2011 to 104,990 in 2016, while their value increased 50 per cent to $9.4 billion. Total tractors under 149 pto hp fell from 600,233 to 546,276.

The total value of farm machinery and equipment owned and leased by agricultural operations increased 15.4 per cent, to $53.9 billion. — AGCanada.com Network

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