WINNIPEG — The face of farming in Canada is changing and nowhere is that more evident than in Manitoba.
New 2011 census data Statistics Canada released Thursday show Manitoba farms were disappearing at a faster pace than anywhere else between 2005 and 2011, declining by 16.7 per cent to 15,877.
And the shift to larger farming operations was also happening at a faster pace than almost anywhere else.
The average size of a Manitoba farm grew by 13.4 per cent to 1,135 acres during that same five-year period, which was second only to Saskatchewan’s 15.1 per cent.
The changes are part of a national trend in which the number of farm counts fell in nine of the country’s 10 provinces and farm sizes increased in eight of the 10.
Canada saw its farm count drop by 10.3 per cent to 205,730 and its average farm size increase by 6.9 per cent to 778 acres.
Statistics Canada said the decline in farm counts is a continuation of a trend that first surfaced in 1941.
Local farm industry experts said consolidation has been the main driving force behind the declining farm counts and the shift to bigger operations.
Brian Oleson, head of the University of Manitoba’s agribusiness and agri-economics department, and Derek Brewin, an associate professor in the department, said the soaring cost of machinery and crop inputs are forcing grain farms to get bigger to stay profitable.
And high grain prices are giving them the financial clout to do it.
At the same time, a growing number of smaller operators who see the writing on the wall are either selling their farms to take advantage of high land prices or renting the land to bigger operators, Oleson said.
“So it becomes a time where it makes the most sense not only for the guy that wants to sell, but for the guy that wants to buy,” Brewin added.
“It ends up being a win-win.”
The Statistics Canada numbers also show a growing shift away from livestock to grain and oilseed production, both here and nationally.
Oleson said high grain prices and growing uncertainty within the livestock industry are the two main reasons for the shift in production.
He said the BSE crisis of a few years ago and more stringent country-of-origin labelling requirements in the U.S. have created a lot of uncertainty for livestock producers.
High grain prices have also driven up the cost of livestock feed.
“So what you’re seeing is the grain side becoming a more and more profitable industry and the livestock side becoming a more and more costly and vulnerable industry.”
But while the number of farms in Canada is shrinking and the face of farming is changing, Alfons Weersink, professor of agriculture at the University of Guelph, said digging deeper into the census data reveals a sector that’s still in fairly robust health.
“The last several years have been good for most of agriculture,” Weersink said. “Profits have been up, prices have been increased quite significantly from the last census ... There’s been a significant boost up.”
Weersink cites the growing number of larger, commercial farms as evidence of the industry’s strength.
» Winnipeg Free Press, with files from The Canadian Press
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 12, 2012