Ontario is a pivotal contributor to Canadian agriculture, as it is to many economic sectors across Canada. The province’s size (largest population and second largest province by land area) and its abundance of natural resources help position it among the nation’s leaders in farming. That’s according to a recent roundup of facts, written by Zong Jia Chen of Statistics Canada, drawing from the 2021 Census of Agriculture.
The province once again made up the largest national share of farms and farm operators. It was also the second largest contributor to the country’s farm operating revenues and was the leader among all provinces in farming commodities such as soybeans, grain corn, and greenhouse products.
Results from the 2021 Census show that Ontario accounted for over one-quarter (25.5%) of total farms in Canada, while making up 7.7% of total farm area. In 2021, there were 48,346 farms reported in Ontario, down from 49,600 in 2016. The rate of decline (-2.5%) was slightly higher than the national rate (-1.9%). Over the same period, the total farm area in Ontario decreased by 4.7% from the previous census, down to 11.8 million acres in 2021.
In 2021, compared with other provinces, Ontario had the largest proportion of Canada’s farms classified as poultry and egg production (38.9%); sheep and goat (36.6%); other animal production (28.7%); vegetable and melon (30.8%); and greenhouse, nursery and floriculture (31.8%).
Ontario led all provinces in soybean and grain corn acreage. In 2021, over half (54.4%) of Canada’s soybean acreage was reported in Ontario, up from 49.6% in 2016. Despite the overall decrease in soybean acreage at the national level (-8.2%), farms in Ontario reported a marginal increase of 0.8% in soybean acreage from the previous census. In 2021, there were 2.8 million acres of soybeans.
Ontario’s 2021 grain corn crop made up 59.9% of Canada’s total, up from 59.8% in 2016. The total grain corn acreage in Ontario rose 1.9% from the previous census, totalling 2.2 million acres in 2021.
Ontario farms accounted for over one-third (33.4%) of Canada’s dairy cows in 2021, second largest in the country. The number of dairy cows in the province rose 4.9% from the previous census, up from 311,960 in 2016.
Because of the strong demand for hogs and pigs from the United States, the number of pigs in Ontario increased by 15.2% — more than four times the national rate (3.4%). In 2016, there were 3.5 million hogs and pigs, and by 2021, there were 4.1 million. Of all types of swine, market pigs had the highest rate of increase, at 22.8%, up from 1.8 million in 2016.
In 2020, 59.9% of farms in Ontario had under $100,000 in revenues, down from 61.4% in 2015. By comparison, farms with less than $100,000 in revenues made up 55.8% of total farms in Canada in 2020. Consistent with the trend of fewer but larger farms from the previous census, the number of farms in Ontario with revenues of $1 million and over increased by 19.2%, up from 3,479 in 2015.
Number of farmers declining, getting older
As was the case in 2016, the number of farm operators reported in Ontario made up over one-quarter (25.7%) of total farm operators reported in Canada in 2021. Meanwhile, the number of farm operators in the province decreased by 4.4% from the previous census, which was slightly above the national rate (-3.5%). In 2021, there were 67,390 farm operators in Ontario, down from 70,470 in 2016. Nevertheless, farm operators of oilseed and grain farms increased by 6.6% from 2016, up to 24,115 in 2021. These farm operators accounted for over one-third (35.8%) of total farm operators reported in Ontario, up from 32.1% in 2016.
Although the total number of farm operators in Ontario decreased over time, the proportion of female farm operators increased from 29.7% in 2016 to 31.0% in 2021. This was because the number of female operators in the province remained steady over this period. There were 20,905 female farm operators in 2016, and by 2021, the number decreased marginally to 20,895. Conversely, the number of male farm operators decreased 6.2% from 2016, down to 46,490 in 2021.
The number of farm operators in Ontario younger than 35 years old (younger operators) decreased by 15.0% from the previous census, down from 6,610 in 2016. By comparison, the number of farm operators aged 35 to 54 years old (middle-aged operators) decreased by 20.9%, down to 19,780 in 2021. Conversely, the number of farm operators aged 55 or older (older operators) increased by 8.1% from 2016, up to 42,000 in 2021.