Plenty of issues for government policy makers to address.
Ottawa—The release of the 2021 agriculture census is stirring lots of contemplation about what its findings should tell producers, agrifood groups and governments, say close observers of the sector.
Serge Buy, CEO of the Agri-Food Innovation Council, said it was interesting to see that more farmers are adopting sustainable farming practices. “What they need is the support to increase adoption rates, scalable technologies and to be recognized for the efforts that they’re making.”
Tyler McCann, Managing Director of the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute, said the census also showed there are fewer and larger farms with older operators and higher asset values. “These long-term trends highlight some of the challenges and opportunities facing policymakers.”
The barrier facing young and new farmers is rising, which will only raise the median age of Canadian farmers, he said.
J.P. Gervais, Vice-President and Chief Economist with Farm Credit Canada, noted that the amount of farmer-owned land had risen since 2016 while the amount of rented land had declined. “I had expected the trend to more rented acres to continue.”
He was also surprised by the rise in off-farm work of more than 30 hours a week that was reported and that the number of farmers 35 and up had stayed up. “This is good news. It shows that succession plans are working.”
Paul Hoekstra, Vice President, Strategic Development, Grain Farmers of Ontario, said the census showed that “Crop farming is clearly more vital than ever to the sustainability of Canada and its robust and economically imperative food system. However, with a growing population to feed, it is concerning to see a decrease in the number of farms. With less than one per cent feeding 100 per cent of the world, we all need to pause and acknowledge that these numbers represent a need to invest in agriculture so that farmers can grow more on decreasing land, even as there are less people farming every year. The increase in farmers in the 55-year-old+ bracket is indicative of the issues the industry has attracting and keeping young talent. These numbers tell me that we all need to support these programs and draw people back into agriculture to ensure strong leaders and food supply chains for the future.”
The Canadian Federation of Agriculture said it was encouraged by the increase in formal succession planning and pleased to see farmers’ commitments to environmental BMPs and renewable energy recognized in the data as well. “The sector’s resilience and adaptability were also made clear in terms of shifts in marketing approaches, diversified income through off-farm work, and the sector’s capacity to maintain food production through the pandemic.
“Given the recent dramatic increase in input prices and farm expenses, we need to closely monitor and assess how to support continued resilience as global supply chain disruptions and climate change continue to introduce new uncertainties and challenges.”
Buy said, “Agriculture in Canada is not the same as agriculture in the Netherlands. We have a large country. Pickup trucks are not going to disappear. Until the technology reaches a level at which it responds to the needs of farming in Canada, we will have some irritants. But let’s celebrate the changes that have been made. The increase in greenhouses is also very relevant.
McCann said it was promising to see an increase in young farmers on the Prairies and an increase in the number of women running farms.
“While cropland remained stable, pasture and grassland are down 4 per cent with pasture down 15 per cent since 2011. Pasture and grassland are an important carbon store and source of biodiversity and these declines impact agriculture’s role as a nature-based climate solution.”
The acres “under conservation tillage are up, having doubled since 2001. In parts of Canada, conservation and no-till practices are significant contributors to carbon sequestration. … Policymakers need to consider the significant progress already achieved when developing policies to encourage sustainable agricultural practices.”