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Survey shows Ag is Robust

Canada's agricultural landscape, once dominated by small farms and plentiful livestock, is now characterized by larger operations that focus on crop production, new census numbers suggested Thursday.

Data from Statistics Canada's 2011 census of agriculture showed the country's farmers are consolidating their operations and shifting their efforts away from the cattle farming that was once the backbone of Canadian farming.

The number of total farms shrank 10.3 per cent since the last census release in 2006, continuing a downward trend that first surfaced in 1941. The number of farm operators also dropped 10.1 per cent over the period.

Data suggests, however, that the decline in overall numbers doesn't necessarily point to a downturn in total farming.

Although the number of farms slipped to 205,730 from 229.373 in the previous census, StatsCan says many smaller farms have been consolidated into larger operations over that five year stretch.

The total area of land being farmed slipped only four per cent to 160,155,748 acres, while the average farm size jumped seven per cent to 778 acres.

Alfons Weersink, professor of agriculture at the University of Guelph, says digging deeper into the census data reveals a sector that's in fairly robust health.

"The last several years have been good for most of agriculture," Weersink said in a telephone interview. "Profits have been up, prices have been increased quite significantly from the last census... There's been a significant boost up."

Weersink cites the growing number of commercial farms as evidence of the industry's strength. StatsCan says the number of farms reporting more than $1 million in gross farm receipts soared 31.2 per cent from 2006 levels. There was also a three per cent surge in the number of farms bringing in more than $500,000, which now make up 11.5 per cent of all farms in Canada.

Total gross farming receipts climbed four per cent to $51.1 billion, a fact Weersink partly attributes to high commodity and grain prices.

That same up-tick partially accounts for the shift in farm production that took place over the past five years, he says.

Canada's farming industry was traditionally sustained in equal measure by grain and beef production, according to the last census. Now, StatsCan said grain and oilseed farms make up 30 per cent of the national total, up from 26.9 per cent, while beef farms tumbled from 26.3 per cent to 18.2 per cent.

Weersink says farmers have been adjusting their focus to capitalize on the strong crop market.

May 14, 2012  By The Canadian Press


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