50 crops may be the new 40

The average age of the Canadian farmer continues to rise unabated. Most of us know the reasons; financial barriers to entry being paramount.

The average farmer age is 58, and more than half of producers in all provinces are older than 55, except in Quebec where 48.8 percent of farmers are 55 or older.

Farmers aged 50 to 54 make up 15 to 18 percent of all producers in the country. As well, 80 percent of all farmers are older than 45.

This demographics issue is a statistical bubble. The last Canadian Census of Agriculture in 2011 found that on 55 percent of farms the oldest operators were older than 55. Twenty years earlier, the number was 37 percent.

During the same period, the number of oldest operators aged 40 and younger declined 62 percent to 10 percent in 2011 from 26 percent in 1991.

Machinery is getting bigger, along with farm size, and the buyers are looking for more comfortable tools to accommodate their older bodies.

While companies can design and market equipment to this aging demographic and keep them in machinery seats, or supervising autonomous robotic equipment later into their lives, that can’t be done with farmland.

We all will retire someday and there is a bubble coming.

The farm income bubble of 2007-14 kept many producers farming who might otherwise have quit. For many growers, it was the first series of profitable years they had experienced since the 1970s.

Beef cattle and grain farmers are among the oldest operators, dairy and poultry are the youngest. That points to the stability of those industries and a profit potential that makes them more attractive to new entrants, albeit usually family members.

One might think bigger farms are operated by younger producers, but when it comes to farm receipts from $500,000 to $1 million, 45 percent are run by farmers 55 and older.

The percentage of operators age 55 and older is the same for operations with receipts of $1 million to $2 million and for operations with receipts of more $2 million.

Many farmers think they have 40 crops in them, but unless we find ways to bring in a new wave of growers, we might be looking at 50 crops being the new 40.

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