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Taking an agriculture census


A picture of Canada would be incomplete without important and current information about agriculture, which plays an important role in the Canadian economy.

The Census of Agriculture provides comprehensive information on topics such as crop area, number of livestock, weeks of farm labour, number and value of farm machinery, farm expenses and receipts, and land management practices. The most recent was conducted in conjunction with the Census of Population on May 16, 2006. Although the two censuses are very different, conducting them at the same time has several benefits. This chapter describes the Census of Agriculture and how it is conducted.

A farmhouse sits on hillside, surrounded by a forest.

A brief history

The Constitution Act of 1867 (formerly the British North America Act) determined that a census would be taken every 10 years starting in 1871. However, rapid expansion in Western Canada at the turn of the century made a more frequent census necessary. Starting in 1896, a separate Census of Agriculture was taken every five years in Manitoba, and, beginning in 1906, in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

By 1956, rapid economic growth and development created the need for national demographic and agricultural information at more frequent intervals. In 1956, the five-year Census of Agriculture was extended to the entire country, and the Census of Population became a regular enumeration every five years. That year, the two started a long tradition of being conducted concurrently.

Although the Census of Agriculture and the Census of Population are conducted at the same time, they do have separate questionnaires. Most of the development, testing, processing, data validation and preparation for data dissemination for the Census of Agriculture and the Census of Population are handled by different groups within Statistics Canada. However, sharing the data collection and communications activities for both censuses streamlines procedures and reduces costs considerably. Another important benefit is that information from the two questionnaires can be linked to create the agriculture–population linkage database. This unique database provides users with a wealth of information pertaining to the social and economic characteristics of the farm population.

Questionnaire respondents

Anyone who operates a farm, ranch or other agricultural operation that produces at least one of the products intended for sale (listed in figure D), is required to complete the Census of Agriculture questionnaire.

Figure D
Products intended for sale from an agricultural operation
Crops Livestock Poultry Animal products Other agricultural products
  • hay
  • field crops
  • tree fruits or nuts
  • berries or grapes
  • vegetables
  • seed
  • cattle
  • pigs
  • sheep
  • horses
  • game animals
  • other livestock
  • hens
  • chickens
  • turkeys
  • chicks
  • game birds
  • other poultry
  • milk or cream
  • eggs
  • wool
  • furs
  • meat
  • sod, greenhouse or nursery products
  • Christmas trees
  • mushrooms
  • honey or bees
  • maple syrup products

Operators are defined as those responsible for the management and/or financial decisions made in the production of agricultural commodities. All operations, regardless of size, must submit a completed Census of Agriculture questionnaire. As a group, even very small operations contribute significantly to the agricultural community and economy. Since 1991, the Census of Agriculture questionnaire has expanded to include multiple operators reporting for one farm.

Timing of the Census of Agriculture

The Census of Agriculture questionnaire is dropped off at the same time as the Census of Population questionnaire. Farm operators all across Canada were enumerated, as well as their livestock, crops and other products on Tuesday, May 16, 2006.

In former years, the Census of Agriculture and the Census of Population were conducted on the first Tuesday of June. In 1996, the date was changed to the second Tuesday in May to improve follow-up activities. Delivering questionnaires and having them mailed back in the same month avoids beginning and end-of-month movers and the problems of tracking them down. Nor have most people left for their annual vacation in May, making it more likely they will be available if enumerators need additional information.

Conducting the Census of Agriculture concurrently with the Census of Population saves millions of dollars. However, Statistics Canada recognizes that, for farmers, mid-May is one of the busiest times of the year, as they try to get crops in the ground.

In 2006, for the first time, farm operators in urban areas received their questionnaires by mail through Canada Post, rather than by hand through a local enumerator. Most operators in rural areas continued to receive their questionnaire by hand, but this census, to address concerns about privacy, every operator was to mail back the form directly to Statistics Canada Data Processing Centre. Until 2001, each census form was mailed back to a local census office where a local census enumerator would look at it for errors and omissions and follow up with the operator for clarification when needed.

Also in 2006, operators could complete their questionnaires on the Internet by using a unique access code. When completed, the questionnaire was sent electronically to the Data Processing Centre. Questionnaires completed and returned by mail or on the Internet were never seen by a local enumerator.

Types of data collected

The 2006 Census of Agriculture questionnaire had a total of 197 questions on 16 pages. Respondents were only required to complete questions that applied to their agricultural operations; an average respondent answered about half the questions. A series of 'skip' questions also helped the respondents move quickly through the questionnaire. The following is a list of the types of data collected:

  • type of operating arrangements
  • farm operator information
  • size (area) of operation
  • land use and land tenure
  • area and type of field crops
  • area and type of fruits, berries and nuts
  • area and type of vegetables
  • area of nursery products and sod
  • area of Christmas trees
  • area and type of greenhouse products
  • area of mushrooms
  • number of maple taps
  • number of bee colonies and other pollinating bees
  • land management practices
  • chicken and turkey production and inventory
  • number of birds hatched in commercial poultry hatcheries
  • number and type of livestock
  • market value of land and buildings
  • number and market value of farm machinery by type
  • farm business operating expenses
  • total gross farm receipts
  • use of a personal computer in managing the farm business
  • value of forest products
  • weeks of paid farm labour.

Agriculture–population linkage database

An important benefit of conducting the Census of Agriculture with the Census of Population is that the two can be matched or linked by computer. Since all farm operators also complete a Census of Population questionnaire, linking information from the two questionnaires provides a detailed socio-economic profile of the farm population that includes information such as marital status, level of education, major field of study, labour force activity and sources of income.

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