According to the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), Canada’s farms are increasingly sustainable and high-tech, and they are 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,” said Peggy Brekveld, President of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA).
The 2021 Census of Agriculture shows the following national trends:
- Almost 65 per cent 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 per cent in the previous Census five years ago. As well, farmers are turning to more drought-tolerant crops, like barley, which saw an increase of almost 25 per cent.
- 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 per cent from 2016 to 2021.
- Farmers are using technology like automated 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.
To the OFA, 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 per cent of its productive farmland, which translates into 319 acres per day – up from the previous rate of 175 acres per day.
“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,” said Brekveld.
National Census data also shows that more farmers are making plans to transition their farm businesses to the next generation, with 12 per cent having a succession plan in place compared to only 8.4 per cent in 2016. And for the first time since 1991, the number of female farmers has increased, rising to 30.4 per cent of the farm population.
The greenhouse industry continues to see steady growth, reporting a 23.2 per cent 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 per cent increase in the number of organic farms across the country.