How does Canada use its land? Find out below
By Andrew Joseph, Farms.com; Photo by Lucas George Wendt on Unsplash
Farming is Canada.
Let that mull around in your head for a moment.
It’s not to say that one has to be a farmer or involved in any way shape or form in ag to be considered Canadian. Rather it’s a way of stating that agriculture in all its myriad forms is responsible for who we are as a country, and for feeding our populace, not to mention the world.
Certainly, we get some of our food intake from other countries—and who doesn’t enjoy the variety?—but Canada is also resilient enough to rely on the backs and sweat of our agricultural sector to provide a cornucopia of bounty.
But sometimes being such a powerhouse in the global scale of agriculture has caused us—the populace as a whole—to be complacent in how we view the sector.
It’s perhaps why the growing sector of farming is shrinking in Canada, as far as labour inputs go. But, thanks to advances in the science of ag, farmers can grow more with less.
That’s fewer inputs such as fertilizer and herbicides and even water. Fewer people to plant, nurture and harvest. But larger numbers of people eating that bounty.
Even during Thanksgiving, when the population sits down to eat a meal—or any meal at any time of the year—thanks are given. Be it to a deity, to the hands that prepared them, or just the thankfulness of having a hot meal made available when the rest of the year is a struggle just to survive.
While there is nothing wrong with giving thanks, we should also give thanks to the hands that make it their livelihood to grow our food—be it crops, fruits or animal protein. And it should be done every day.
Here’s a more detailed look at why using data from the Government of Canada.
If we look at what is known as primary agriculture—work done within the boundaries of a farm, nursery or greenhouse—there are 189,874 farms in Canada, covering some 62.2 million hectares of the country’s area.
Although this is only 6.3 percent of Canada’s land area (much of our nation’s land is too far within the northern climes to farm effectively), our average farm size is larger than that of the US, UK, and Japan, with an average Canadian farm consisting of 809.4 acres.
For reference, Japan’s average farm size was just 10.2 acres—though since this writer once lived in a farming city for a few years surrounded by rice and corn fields, as well as apple and pear orchards, he can state that the small size is due to it passing down through generations of farmers, usually to the eldest son. Unlike in the Canadian prairies when farmland was given away to immigrants.
To quote from the Canada West: The Last Best West magazine in 1910: “Living is cheap; climate is good; education and land are free.”
Free land AND education? What a Canadian concept. Although 21st-century inflation and long, cold winters and bone-dry drought may play ‘liar-liar-pants-on-fire’ with the other two selling points.
This was part of a Canadian government advertorial to attract skilled farmers to settle and farm in the then-very low-populated provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia.
Back then, eastern Canada had large urban centres in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, and Quebec (Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949), but for proper growth across the country, farmers were needed—and there sure was a lot of land available owned by the government, some 100 million acres.
The goal was to feed the industrialized eastern Canada of mostly Quebec and Ontario, but also the east coast provinces and to attract more trade between it and Europe.
Canada West’s advertorial noted that:
- "For the Man Who Has Less than $300" - this man had better work for wages the first year;
- “The Man Who Has $600" - get hold of your 160 homestead acres at once and build your shack, and;
- “What $1,200 Will Buy" – noting the type of farming equipment available.
Between 1896 and 1914 (when The Great War aka WWI started), immigration from Europe and the US numbered over 2 million to western Canada.
Of the 5 million people in Canada in 1901, 12 percent were immigrants, with some 96 percent of them being of European descent. This “European descent” actually includes those coming from America (19 percent), Great Britain (57 percent); Germany (four percent); China (2.5 percent), and those from such then-exotic climes as Japan, Turkey, West Indies, and Syria.
The data noted that over the past 50 years, the size of the average Canadian farm doubled—mostly through family farms with no children wanting to take over selling it via auction to other interested farmers.
Canadian farm revenues in 2021 were at a record high of $76.9 billion. These are revenues derived from the sale of ag commodities, which were led by grains and oilseeds, red meat, and dairy.
There was a 4.7 percent average annual growth seen in Canadian ag, with the leader being the grain and oilseed sector.
For those that believe that size isn’t everything, in agriculture, it plays a role. The largest 10 percent of Canadian farms helped generate two-thirds of all revenues in the industry.
The Canadian crop sector generated a GDP (gross domestic product) of $26.2 billion in 2021. This is the monetary measure of the market value of all the final goods and services produced and sold in a specific time period by countries.
Now, as noted, as of 2021 there were 189,874 total farms in Canada. But, with 65,135 farms reporting re: crops, it employed 115,500 people.
Sales of Canadian crops came in at $32.7 billion, with China being our top export market at 20.4 percent; Japan at 10.8 percent; and the US at 9.6 percent.
In the horticulture sector, there was $7.5 billion in sales, with exports coughing up $3.8 billion—with 17,433 farms reporting data.
The top three export markets were the US at 96.6 percent, followed by the Netherlands at 0.7 percent, and China at 0.5 percent.
Regarding animal production, it contributed $5.6 billion to the GDP, as well as 111,700 jobs.
Sales in this sector came in at $29.9 billion via 76,796 total farms. Canada exported $2.2 billion of its animal products, with 95.3 percent going to the US; 1.1 percent to Japan; and before sanctions against it for its invasion of Ukraine, Russia with 1.0 percent.
Who farms what
The data provided by the Government of Canada offered a list of the top three crop and livestock sales by province over the five years of 2017-2021.
Here in alphabetical order are the results:
- Cattle and calves: $5.2 billion
- Canola: $2.9 billion
- Wheat: $2.1 billion
- Dairy: $673 million
- Vegetables: $618 million
- Floriculture, nursery and sod: $512 million
- Canola: $1.5 billion
- Wheat: $1.2 billion
- Hogs: $1.1 billion
- Potatoes: $164 million
- Dairy: $118 million
- Floriculture, nursery and sod: $49 million
- Newfoundland and Labrador
- Dairy: $47 million
- Eggs: $19 million
- Floriculture, nursery and sod: $10 million
- Dairy: $149 million
- Fruit: $66 million
- Eggs: $43 million
- Dairy: $2.2 billion
- Vegetables: $2 billion
- Soybeans: $1.7 billion
- Potatoes: $239 million
- Dairy: $90 million
- Cattle and calves: $32 million
- Dairy: $2.5 billion
- Hogs: $1.5 billion
- Poultry: $819 million
- Canola: $5.6 billion
- Wheat: $3.5 billion
- Cattle and calves: $1.5 billion
The bottom line is that Canada as a nation needs to show through its population and government that Canadian agriculture is just a rural obligation.
It needs to show it as it is: an intelligent, hard-working sector that creates food for us and for the world using the latest in advanced technologies that would make a 14-year-old urban teen blush with embarrassment for not knowing how to use it.
We need to encourage people, regardless of whether they are in urban centres or rural communities that the ag sector holds promise and growth—personal growth, too—as a viable career option.
And we need to do it now.
The adage is that respect is earned. Now one can say that farmers haven’t earned it. We, as a nation and as an industry, just need to be better at explaining just what it is we do for Canada.