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Fewer farmers, more land: adding up new numbers from the Census of Agriculture

By: Lyndsey Smith

May 11, 2022

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What’s that saying about land? They’re not making any more of it.

The latest Census of Agriculture suggests that farmers are the more scarce resource, however, as the total number of farmers dipped 3.5 per cent from 2016 to 2021.

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The trend to older farmers, especially compared against the Canadian population as a whole, continued with the 2021 census. Statistics Canada says the average age of Canada’s farm operators increased by one year, to 56 years-old, and the median age of farm operators rose by two years from the previous census, reaching 58. In comparison, the median age of Canadians was 41.6 years (up from 41.2 in 2016) and 33.1 per cent of Canadians were at least 55 years old.

While farmers are fewer and older, the total number of farm operations shrunk by a smaller margin, just 1.9 per cent. It should be noted that this census has defined a farm differently than in the past (see note below).

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Farm operators are, on average, 55-plus — 60.5 per cent of farm operators are in this age category for 2021.

Nearly half of the farms that say they have a succession plan are grain and oilseed farms; however, the total number of farms who say they have a plan to pass the farm to the next generation sits at just 12 per cent in 2021.

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The number of acres farmed actually increased 0.3 per cent, to 92.9 million acres in 2021. Grain and oilseed farms and beef and beef feedlots make up the greatest proportion of Canadian farm enterprises, in number and acres only.

Cattle and hog numbers were also up over 2016, but sheep numbers declined.

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The number of cattle increased about 100,000, through an increase in milk cows, steers, beef cows, but a decrease heifers for slaughter, heifers for dairy herd replacement, heifers for beef herd replacement, and bulls.

There were 3.4 per cent more hogs over 2016, for a total of 14.6 million.

The 0.2 per cent decrease in sheep (for a total count at 1.1 million head) was quite small compared to the 10 per cent drop in the number of farms with sheep.

Note from StatsCan regarding the change in the farm definition for 2021 Census of Agriculture:

“A significant conceptual change to the main statistical unit used by Statistics Canada’s Agriculture Statistics Program has been introduced for the 2021 Census of Agriculture: a “farm” or an “agricultural holding” (i.e., the census farm) now refers to a unit that produces agricultural products and reports revenues or expenses for tax purposes to the Canada Revenue Agency. Before 2021, a “farm” was defined as an agricultural operation that produced at least one agricultural product intended for sale. The change in the new farm definition may result in farms being classified differently across farm types than in previous censuses. As a result, comparisons with earlier census results should be interpreted with caution. Readers are invited to consult the Note to readers for more information on definitional changes since 2016.”

StatsCan we be releasing more details and tables of the Census of Agriculture over the next few months. You can dig in to what’s available now, here.