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Number of farmers continues steep decline

Statistics Canada made it official today: there are fewer farmers working the land across the country, including a drop of 6.2 percent from 2001 to 2006, leaving 684,260 to farm.

December 3, 2008  By Regina Leader-Post

December 3, 2008 

In less than one lifetime, Canada has moved from one in three Canadians living on a farm to one in 46, a new Statistics Canada report says.

The report, released on Tuesday, noted that Canada's farm population is continuing to steadily decline in numbers, dropping by 6.2 percent since 2001 to a total of 684,260 in 2006.


In 1931, when the farm population count was first compiled, more than three million people were living on a farm -nearly 32 percent of the Canadian population.

Saskatchewan has the highest percentage of people still living on the farm, at 11.5 percent of the province's total population.

One Regina-area family acknowledges the trend but intends to stay on the farm.

Dale and Deb Heenan have farmed their land together for 26 years, and plan to retire on the family farm and turn the operation over to their two sons who are following in their footsteps.

"I think it is the love of land and being able to watch that so-called miracle of putting seeds in the ground, watching them produce and the harvest (of those crops) that has kept us farming,'' Deb said, explaining her husband has instilled in his children that same connection with the land.

"He has always been very optimistic. Even in a poor year he can always see that next year we can do something better or try something new to do better at. It is not, 'Oh, another crummy crop, we'll have to go the government (for assistance),' that type of thing,''' she said.

But Heenan said she has watched neighbours, particularly those families who have no one interested in taking over the farm, pulling up stakes and selling their land to larger farm operations.

"We know the numbers (of farm) are going down and we (at the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities) have raised that as a concern."

"Everything is changing -the size of the farms are getting larger, more people are leaving the farm, the agricultural community is aging, and there is not a large number of young people taking up farming,'' said SARM president Dave Marit. Speaking from his own personal experience Marit, who has farmed in the Fife Lake area for 35 years, said his children aren't interested in farming.

"The whole agriculture community is changing. I think the biggest reason is equipment has gotten a lot bigger and it is a lot more efficient for an individual farmer to farm a lot more land today than he could have 10 or 15 years ago. For an individual farmer to farm 3000 to 4000 acres is not a huge task anymore,'' Marit said.

"It is all about economies of scale. Farmers have to make a huge investment in farm machinery and so the farmer says, 'If I have to invest that kind of money in equipment then I have to look at a larger land base to make it efficient for me to own.' ''

The report noted the total number of census farms in Canada began to decline with the coming of the Second World War, followed by the increasing urbanization of the 1950s. The biggest five-year decrease on record was from 1956 to 1961, when the number of farms fell by 16.4 percent -a loss of more than 94,000 farms.

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