UPDATED: Farms grow, get grey and remain relatively financially stable

UPDATED – May 10, 2017 – 1535 CST – graphics added

Farmers are older, there are fewer of them, farms are larger and canola is king.

And when it comes to beef cattle, producers are 12.6 percent fewer and the size of the industry dropped 2.4 percent, based on herd size.

The new 2016 Canadian Census of Agriculture was released this morning, and while farms remained as profitable as they were in 2010, they also continued along the path to consolidation, albeit at a slower rate than in the decades previous.

The last census of agriculture had some anomalies due to repeated flooding on the Prairies, especially Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The 2011 numbers showed more summerfallow, wetland and flooded fields as a result.

Across Canada, field crop area grew from 69.7 million acres in 2011 to 78.5 million in 2016, largely driven by increases in planted areas in the prairie provinces.

Hay and alfalfa cropland declined 16.6 percent, or about 2.8 million acres, while the area of pasture decreased 4.4 percent, down 2.2 million acres, aligning with a smaller beef cattle herd. Much of this hay and pastureland was converted to field crop production, helping to boost that result.

Producers of grains and oilseeds continued to spread their risk by growing a greater diversity of crops. A strong demand for lentils helped producers accomplish this. Lentils are now the third largest crop in Saskatchewan, following canola and spring wheat.

Corn and soybeans continue to rise in acreage in Canada, due to growth of production in the West. Soybeans and corn for grain and silage in the prairie provinces have been largely driven by new, shorter season hybrids and new varieties that are more suitable for production in the region. Soybean acres in Manitoba rose from 705,032 acres in 2011 to 1,645,397 last year.

Farm efficiency is measured by a ratio of expenses to gross receipts, and next to dairy, grain and oilseed operators remained near the top of the margin pyramid in agriculture.

For those producers, 79 cents of every dollar earned is spent on inputs and other operational costs. This fell when compared to 2010, when it was 76 cents. However, at the same time the value of farm machinery in Canada grew 15.4 percent, adding to costs of operations. Farm equipment blossomed to $54 billion by 2016.

Efficiency of some operations jumped, especially in dairy. Cows in 2015 produced 8.7 percent more milk per head than they did five years earlier. The number of dairy cows in Canada fell at the same time by 2.4 percent. Dairy producers saw their cost to receipts ratio rise from .73 to .77.

Beef cattle continue to decline in Canada, dropping the number of cows by one percent in five years, while consolidation increased the average number of head on farms by 13 percent. Eighty percent of beef cattle remain produced in the Prairies.

Cattle feeders also grew their numbers of head fed by about 13 percent, but it took fewer of them to accomplish it.

Beef cattle operations are doing better than in 2010, when 93 cents of every dollar earned in sales went to expenses. Today that is 90 cents, a 30 percent improvement in margins.

Look for more stories and analysis about the Census of Agriculture on producer.com and in The Western Producer as our news team threshes the data crop over the coming days.

Contact mike.raine@producer.com

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