If you’re looking for an Ontario farmer, they’ll be harder to find, more likely to have grey hair and will be running a lot more land than 20 years ago.
Data published by Statistics Canada on Monday from the 2011 Census of Agriculture paints an agricultural sector undergoing dramatic changes, starting with farmers themselves.
While the average age of farm operators in 1991 was 48.3, that shot up to 54.5 years in 2011.
And while Ontario had 100,910 farm operators in 1991, that number was down to 74,840 by last year.
The amount of land being farmed in Ontario has also dropped, declining to 12.6 million acres in 2011 from 13.4 million acres in 1991.
What hasn’t declined is farm capital — the value of all farmland, buildings, farm machinery and equipment, livestock and poultry.
Measured by Stats Canada in current dollars, the value in 1991 was $40.7 billion. In 2011 it had more than doubled to $85.7 billion.
Other changes measured in the Statistics Canada Agriculture Census, which covered the years 1991-2011:
- There are more larger farms. In 1991 there were 727 farms in Ontario 1,120 acres or larger. By last year the number that size had grown to 1,547.
- Orchards are disappearing from the landscape. There were 51,007 acres of fruit trees 20 years ago. In 2011, the number was slashed to 28,887 acres.
- Fewer cows, more chickens, sheep and pigs. The number of cows and calves in Ontario dropped to 1.7 million in 2011 from 2.2 million in 1991. Sheep and lambs climbed to 352,807 from 251,620, while chicken numbers jumped to 46.9 million from 34 million. There were slightly more pigs.
- Livestock production is more concentrated. The number of farms with pigs fell to 2,556 from 9,429 in the 20-year period, while the number with cattle dropped to 20,349 from 35,584.
- More crops grown in greenhouses. In 1991 active greenhouses covered 40.9 million square feet. In 2011 there were 133.5 million square feet of greenhouses in Ontario.
- More maple trees tapped. Ontario farmers installed one million taps in 1991 for maple syrup production. Last year the number of taps had increased to 1.5 million.