Ontario Federation of Agriculture
GUELPH — Canada’s farms are increasingly sustainable and high-tech and they’re modernizing rapidly to adapt to the changing world. The latest census of agriculture data released by Statistics Canada shows more widespread use of sustainable farming practices, higher rates of technology adoption and renewable energy production on-farm, and a rise in direct marketing to consumers.
The industry also showed resilience in the face of COVID-19 by maintaining, or even growing production in some sectors despite pandemic and labour challenges.
We know that agriculture is a major pillar of our economy and will be a key driver of our post-pandemic recovery and this latest census data confirms that, says Peggy Brekveld, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture. It also underlines the importance of invest- ing in roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, affordable energy and quality high-speed broadband in rural Ontario so that our sector can continue to adapt, thrive and support prosperity in our province.
The 2021 census of agriculture shows the following national trends:
Almost 65% of farms across Canada reported using sustainable farming practices like rotational and winter grazing, planting cover crops and using shelterbelts and windbreaks, up from 53.7% in the previ- ous Census five years ago. As well, farmers are turning to more drought-tolerant crops, like barley, which saw an increase of almost 25%.
Over twice as many farms report they’re producing renewable energy production compared to the last census. Solar energy leads the way, showing an increase of 66.5% from 2016 to 2021.
Farmers are using technology like au- tomated guidance steering systems and high-tech mapping to increase production and stay competitive in the global market.
More farmers than ever are adapting how they sell, with direct-to-consumer delivery surging in popularity as a result of pandemic restrictions.
One of the most disappointing findings in the census is the ongoing and rapid loss of farmland from agricultural production. From 2016 to 2021, Ontario lost 4.7% of its productive farmland, which translates into 319 acres per day up from the previous rate of 175 acres per day across the province.
Farmland is absolutely essential to our continued ability to produce food, fuel, and fibre for Ontarians, Canadians and the world, and once it’s gone, we can’t get it back, says Brekveld. “That’s why we’ve identified farmland preservation as a significant priority for Ontario, and as we’ve been hearing from our meetings with election candidates across the province, it’s a concern that is shared by many people in this province.”
National Census data also shows that more farmers are making plans to transition their farm businesses to the next generation, with 12% having a succession plan in place compared to only 8.4% in 2016. And for the first time since 1991, the number of female farmers has increased, rising slightly to 30.4% of the farm population.
The greenhouse industry continues to see steady growth, reporting a 23.2% increase in production area to meet consumer demand for fresh, locally grown produce. As well, consumer appetite for organic products has resulted in a 32% increase in the number of organic farms across the country. Tyler Brooks is director of communica- tions and stakeholder relations with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.