By Connor Lynch
OTTAWA — Farmers are older, and there are fewer farms in Canada, but they’re making more money, according to the 2016 Census of Agriculture, released by Statistics Canada last month.
Over the course of the last 20 years, from 1996 to 2016, Canada lost about 80,000 farms, about 18,000 of which were in Ontario. The total number of farms in Canada dropped from 276,548 in 1996 to 193,492 in 2016, a 30 per cent decrease. Ontario went from 67,520 farms in 1996 to 49,600 in 2016, a 26 per cent decrease. About 10 million acres of farmland were lost across the country, a five per cent decrease, and Ontario lost about 1.5 million acres of farmland, a decrease of 11 per cent. Total farmland in Canada went from 168 million acres to 158 million, and Ontario’s acreage went from 13.8 million to 12.3 million.
Even in just the last five years, Ontario lost about 2,300 farms of its 51,950 farms, 1,300 of which were in Eastern Ontario (east of Toronto). Losses were evenly distributed across the counties.
But even as farms and farmed acres disappear, gross farm receipts increase. Across Canada, receipts went from $51 billion in 2011 to $69 billion in 2016. In Ontario, gross cash receipts increased from $11 billion in 2011 to $15 billion in 2016.
Even as farms start making more money, however, agriculture struggles to attract young farmers to take over. The average age of a Canadian farmer in 1996 was 48. In 2016, it was 55.
Average ages are getting pushed up by both an ageing farm population and a declining population of young farmers. In 20 years, the number of farmers under the age of 35 went from 13,835, to 6,610. Meanwhile, the number of farmers over 55 went from 34,105 to 38,850. The number of farmers in between, aged 35 to 54, saw a steep decline as well, falling from 48,995 in 1996 to 25,010 in 2016.