The Changing Face Of Canadian Agriculture

The following article was put together by David Cohlmeyer. David is a Sustainable Good Foods Consultant who assists many types of farmers and distributors to build their brand to fill market niches, to calculate full costs of production to assure profitable pricing, and to manage cash flow to maintain a sustainable business. 

In December 2012, Statistics Canada released much of the agricultural data from the 2011 census. I thought it would be interesting to track how much Ontario agriculture has changed since I became actively involved with farming in 1988. So I made a list of comparisons during the 20 years between the 1991 census and the 2011 census.

Percent change in Ontario from 1991 to 2011

+33%  increase in Ontario’s population

+207%  increase in imported food

+ 38%  increase in total food sales

+460%  increase in the number of organic farms

+3000%  (i.e. +20% per year) increase in sales of organic food

–26%  number of farm operators

  –4%  acres being farmed

–23%  heads of beef cattle

–27%  dairy cows

+26%  chickens

–16%  acres for horticulture

–48%  acres of orchards

+111%  farm capitalization (88% is land and buildings)

+82%  annual farm expenses

+26%  average annual farm sales

             (–30%sales from farms under $500,000 annual sales)

             (+206% sales from farms over $500,000 annual sales)

–62%  farm earnings (EBITDA)

+450%  years to retire farm capitalization

–67%  farm operators under 35 years old

 +7%  farm operators over 55 years old

+13%  average age of farmers

With a 33% increase in population, one would think there should have been a corresponding increase in local food production. In fact, there was a considerable (18%) decline. This iscertainly not contributing to a secure food supply.

For me, the scariest number is the 67% reduction of farmers under 35 years old. (Who is going to teach this complex profession to our grandchildren?) The other frightening figure revealed in this analysis is the increase in time it statistically takes for a farm to retire its capitalization. Due to higher land costs and lower earnings, this has gone from a reasonable 12 years to an impractical 66 years. With today’s unrealistically low food prices, only careful attention to selling into niches (such as Certified Organic) can hope to provide a viable farm business. 

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