The Family Farm is Alive and Well in Canada

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People used to lament the demise of the family farm in Canada. They said that farming was being taken over by heartless mega-corporations that were usually foreign owned. Truth is, the Canadian family farm isn’t disappearing, it’s just getting bigger.

Stats Canada’s 2011 Census of Agriculture shows that the number of farms in Canada is on the decline. However, the average size of Canadian farms has increased as farmers who choose to stay on the land consolidate and expand their operations. In 2011, there were 23,643 fewer farms in Canada than there were in 2006. During the same period, the average size of farms in Canada increased by 6.9%. The most dramatic increases in farm sizes occurred in Saskatchewan were they grew 15.1% on average. Today less than 5% of Canada’s farmers account for almost half of the country’s food production.

Not only are farmers producing more, they’re shifting their focus to different crops. The Wheat Pools are gone, and wheat is no longer the dominant crop in Western Canada. Canola is now king because it sells for higher prices. Cattle traditionally provided the strong backbones for the Canadian agricultural industry but in 2011, beef farms accounted for 18.2% of the total number or farms in Canada, down from 26.6% in 2006.

One reason for the shift towards larger farms is improved technology, higher prices for commodities, and better educated farmers. Larger farms are more efficient and productive, and can produce more for less. Farms that generate $1 million or more in annual revenue are the fastest growing sector in Canadian farming.

There’s no doubt that Canadian farmers are getting older. These days 48% of farmers in this country are 55 or older. The number of farmers under 35 has shown a slow decline since 2006. However, there is also a growing trend for younger people to return to the family farm to start a second career after working in the oil fields or the city.

The outlook for farming is indeed optimistic in Canada. However, the top two challenges facing young or new farmers are lack of capital and land access.

If you are interested in buying a farm or increasing the size of your holdings, contact the Farming Families team, your Alberta agricultural real estate and farm tax experts.

By Fred Mertz  

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