Average farmer age increasing: agriculture census

Despite a commodity price boom that has been touted by agricultural leaders and economists as signalling a renaissance for agriculture, younger producers have not been flocking back to the farm.

Statistics Canada reported today that the 2011 Census of Agriculture indicated the average age of a Canadian farmer increased two years to 54 between 2006 and 2011.

For the first time, almost half of farmers (48.3 percent) were older than 54. In the general population, only 15.4 percent of self-employed Canadians were as old.

Meanwhile, the portion of farm operators younger than 35 declined nationally from 9.1 percent in 2006 to 8.2 percent.

Senior Statistics Canada agriculture division official Erik Dorff said part of the explanation is that while high prices are attracting people back to the industry, they often are older workers or professionals who decide to retire to the farm to raise some crops or cattle.

“They are new entrants but not younger new entrants,” he said.

As a snapshot of Canadian agriculture last year when 96 percent of farmers returned their census forms, the survey also revealed:

• canola has replaced wheat as the largest prairie crop

• grain and oilseed producers saw the value of production increase 49 percent to $18 billion while cattle and hog sales and herd sizes slid sharply, lagging as a poor second

• farmers had more money left after expenses as receipts rose $3 billion while expenses were flat

• The number of census farms fell 10 percent to 205,730 in 2011, although the definition counted anyone with a farm operation intending to sell crop, no matter how small

• The 37 percent of census farms that reported less than $25,000 gross revenues had 1.4 percent of farm revenue

• average farm size continued to grow and farms reporting $1 million or more of gross receipts accounted for just 4.7 percent of farms but 49.1 percent of receipts. Farms with receipts of $500,000 or more represented 11.5 percent of farms but 68 percent of receipts

• Canadian farms employed almost 300,000 full-time and part-time employees last year. It was the first survey of on-farm employees

• Internet use as a farm business tool increased by 20 percent to more than 55 percent of farms, although most farms reported that they did not have access to high-speed internet

• the census reported that for the first time, most acreage seeded across the country had a no-till system

• The number of organic operations increased only slightly during the five years to 1.8 percent of farms

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