StatsCan report shows more canola, less wheat

Latest five-year agriculture census snapshot shows gross 
farm revenue up with expenses falling slightly

The numbers are out and they show canola is beating wheat, the cost of farming and farm incomes have improved marginally, and the provincial cattle herd is down by nearly a quarter.

Canola area surpassed spring wheat area for the top spot among field crops, up 44.3 per cent to 3.3 million acres since the last survey in 2006, while spring wheat fell 13.2 per cent to 2.6 million acres.

But Doug Chorney, president of Keystone Agricultural Producers, figures that late seeding dates amid last spring’s floods may have distorted the acreage figures in canola’s favour, simply because it was the few last-ditch options available.

“Canola’s been a successful crop for producers,” said Chorney, but he added that last year’s efforts in seeding from airplanes and broadcasting behind heavy harrows may have played a role.

“Although canola’s been the best crop, guys still grow a lot of wheat.”

Operators spent an average of 83 cents in expenses, excluding depreciation, for every dollar of receipts in 2010, about three cents less than they spent in 2005.

Lower interest rates

Chorney said that lower interest rates may have accounted for some of that gain, because energy, fuel and fertilizer have all marched steadily upwards.

“The cost of carrying debt and operating loans has been greatly reduced, and that’s a big portion of farm expenses,” he said.

“Our farmers could be more efficient in operating their farms. We have bigger equipment, but it’s also more expensive, so it’s a bit of a trade-off there.”

Oilseed and grain farms accounted for 49.6 per cent and pig farms 19.2 per cent of the 2010 total gross farm receipts.

At 16.7 per cent, the number of farms, at 15,877, marked a sharper drop since 2006 in Manitoba, compared to a 10.3 per cent decrease nationally. Manitoba accounted for 7.7 per cent of Canada’s 205,730 farms in 2011.

Farms are getting bigger, with fewer farmers, and they’re getting older, the StatsCan numbers show.

The number of farms with $500,000 or more 2010 gross farm receipts increased by 25.7 per cent, and those with less than $500,000 decreased by 21.6 per cent.

There were 2,490 of these larger farms in Manitoba in 2011, and while they represented 15.7 per cent of all farms in the province, they accounted for 73.2 per cent of total provincial gross farm receipts reported for the year 2010.

Manitoba reported 22,315 farm operators, 16.2 per cent lower than in 2006, following the trend in the number of farms. In 2011, 23.6 per cent of Manitoba farm operators were women, while nationally this percentage was 27.4 per cent.

The average age of a farm operator in Manitoba in 2011 was 53.1 years compared with 51.2 years in 2006. Nationally, the average age of a farm operator was 54.0 years, up from 52.0 years in 2006.

Although KAP’s membership numbers bucked a shrinking trend last year, he sees the number of farmers falling every year. They are getting older, too, said Chorney.

“It isn’t a surprise. When I go to farm meetings, I see more grey hair than non-grey hair,” he said. “That’s a challenge for us.”

The need for off-farm jobs slipped marginally. In 2010, 46.2 per cent of all Manitoba farm operators had an off-farm job or business, compared to 47.7 per cent in 2005. At the national level this percentage was 46.9 per cent in 2010.

But a quarter of farmers under the age of 35 worked off the farm for more than 40 hours a week, compared to 20.7 per cent of operators aged 35 to 54, and 9.6 per cent of operators over 55 years of age.

Farm size growing

Manitoba farms averaged 1,135 acres in 2011, up from 1,001 acres five years earlier.

Chorney said that the growing size of farms is one of the report’s more salient points, but it comes as “no big surprise.”

“When a farmer retires, their land is picked up by all the neighbours around them,” he said. “There isn’t always a new person coming to the community to run that farm.”

Of the total farm area in Manitoba, 59.6 per cent was cropland. Acres in hay fell from 20 per cent in 2006 to 17 per cent in the latest survey.

In 2011, Manitoba reported the third-largest pig herd in Canada, with 2.9 million pigs, a 2.8 per cent decrease since 2006. This was the lowest per cent decrease among all provinces.

The total number of cattle in Manitoba decreased 23 per cent since 2006 to 1.2 million head. The number of beef cattle reported for breeding purposes (beef cows and beef heifers) decreased by 23.9 per cent since 2006, totalling 550,642 head in 2011.

Cam Dahl, general manager of Manitoba Beef Producers, said that the steep drop comes as no surprise, given that ranchers have grappled with BSE, COOL, floods, and eliminating bovine TB in Riding Mountain National Park.

“You think of what folks have been through over the last 10 years,” said Dahl. “But there is hope going forward, and we’re seeing that reflected in prices and retained heifer numbers.”

According to the 2011 Census of Agriculture, there were 180 farms certified organic in Manitoba. This represented 1.1 per cent of all farms in the province, compared to 2.0 per cent nationwide.

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