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The Census of Agriculture cycle


Introduction

As previously stated, the censuses of agriculture and population are conducted at the same time every five years. However, once the data are collected, most processing activities are quite separate. In addition, planning for the next census begins even before the current census cycle is finished.

User consultation

User input played an important role in the planning of the 2006 Census of Agriculture. Through a series of workshops held across Canada in 2002, users provided recommendations for the types of questions they wanted to see on the 2006 Census of Agriculture questionnaire. Their submissions also described how they would use the data resulting from their questions and why they needed it. The data requirements identified by users during these consultations were used to develop the content and design of the census questionnaire.

Questionnaire content and development

Although the questionnaire is updated every census to reflect the changing requirements of data users, as identified through the Canada-wide workshops, certain basic or core questions appear at every census. These questions, such as those on operator, land area, livestock numbers and crop area, are considered essential by Statistics Canada and other major users of Census of Agriculture data. Repeating basic questions enables the census to measure change over time; adding new questions and dropping others allows collection of data that reflect new technologies and structural changes in the agriculture industry.

Although no topics on the 2006 Census of Agriculture questionnaire are entirely new, several questions have been added. Most notable are the sections on bees, injuries, irrigation, manure, land tenure and organic production.

Two bee keepers tend to some beehives.

Bees

Honey is not the only 'product' bees produce. Selling bees and their pollination services is a growing agricultural activity and not just with honeybees. Leafcutter bees, as well as other varieties, are becoming increasingly important for pollinating crops such as alfalfa and blueberries, as well as in greenhouses. The question on bees asked about numbers of colonies of honeybees as well as numbers of other bees used exclusively for pollination.

Injuries

In past censuses, farm-related injuries could only be reported for the farm operator. This time, the injuries section was expanded to include farm-related injuries to anyone working on the farm. The aim was to provide better information on the nature of farm-related injuries for anyone involved in the agriculture operation.

Irrigation

In 2006, farm operators could report the use of an irrigation system, as well as the land that was irrigated, in the land management step on the questionnaire. In 2001, operators simply selected irrigation as one of many possible land management practices employed on their operation.

Manure

This step was expanded substantially for 2006. The initial question asked whether manure was produced or used on the operation, as opposed to simply applied. If the answer to either was 'yes‘, several options were listed to indicate how it was used. A third question determined the method of manure application, the area on which each method was used, and how the land on which the manure was applied was used.

A tractor looks tiny in an immense field of crops.

Land tenure

The section where operators report their land was revamped to get a clearer picture of how land was being used. No longer must each separate parcel be listed by location; however, space was provided to report the land being rented, crop-shared or used by others.

Organic production

The questions on organic products encouraged producers to report products for sale that were organic but not certified or in transition to becoming certified. In 2001, operators could only report their certified-organic products produced for sale. Also, for the first time, space was provided to identify the certifying agency if certified or transitional products were produced.

New or changed questions were developed and then tested a number of times with farm operators across Canada in one-on-one interviews on their farms and in focus groups. Operators selected for testing reflected regional diversity—in types of agriculture, production techniques, languages and terminology, and in policies or issues that could affect the sensitivity of questions. This testing proved that some questions would not perform well on the census, and that the wording of other questions would require fine-tuning. Respondent burden, content testing results, user priorities and budgets were all taken into consideration in determining the final content of the 2006 Census of Agriculture questionnaire. It was approved by Cabinet in the spring of 2005.

Data collection

In 2006, most Census of Population forms and some Census of Agriculture forms were delivered to households and farm operations by Canada Post. In rural areas, enumerators delivered Census of Population questionnaires to households and a Census of Agriculture questionnaire was also left if someone in the household operated an agricultural operation.

To determine whether or not the household had an agriculture operator, enumerators were instructed to ask all respondents, 'Is anyone in this household a farm operator?' This question helped identify those who should also complete a Census of Agriculture questionnaire. The question was especially useful in cases where a farm operator lived away from the actual farm operation. A similar question appeared on the Census of Population questionnaire to identify other farm operators who received their questionnaire by Canada Post or may not have been contacted in person. When contact was not made, the enumerator also left a Census of Agriculture questionnaire whenever agricultural activity was evident at the dwelling.

All Census of Agriculture respondents, except those living in remote and northern areas, were asked to mail back their completed questionnaires in the pre-addressed, postage-paid envelopes provided. In remote or northern areas of the country, enumerators visited the agricultural operations and completed the form by interviewing the farm operator.

The Census of Agriculture and the Internet

In 2006, Statistics Canada offered the option of completing the Census of Population or Census of Agriculture questionnaires over the Internet. Instructions for accessing the website address and the Internet forms were included on the paper questionnaires delivered to respondents. Once the appropriate questionnaire was selected, the respondent entered an access code, provided in the instructions. This authenticated users and confirmed that a questionnaire was received from that household. A single portal, or entry point, was used for both the agriculture and population questionnaires. The Internet version also included navigational aids, drop-down menus, and online edits.

Respondents mailed completed paper questionnaires to the Data Processing Centre. The online questionnaires were transmitted directly to the centre. Data from the paper questionnaires were captured using automated capture technologies.

Automated edits were then performed to verify for completeness, consistency and coverage. In previous censuses, these edits were completed manually by the enumerators. Where necessary, failed edit follow-up was conducted by an interviewer who contacted the respondent and completed the information, using a computer-assisted telephone interview application.

An older gentleman leans on a wooden fence in a golden field of autumn.

Large farms

A special data collection process was developed to handle the increasingly complex structure of large integrated agricultural operations. Each operation's business structure was profiled to determine which of its components were to be enumerated and how many questionnaires needed to be completed. The required number of questionnaires was sent to a contact within the operation. Once completed, they were mailed back to the Data Processing Centre, where they were edited before being incorporated into the regular census processing flow.

Census Communications Program

In the months leading up to the census, the Census Communications Program promoted both the Census of Agriculture and the Census of Population. The campaign informed respondents about Census Day, and reminded them of the importance of completing the questionnaire and returning it promptly. A variety of separate promotional materials were developed for the Census of Agriculture and distributed to various agricultural organizations, producer groups and the farm media. They were also distributed at a number of farm shows and agricultural conferences, and displayed by businesses in rural areas. The program also solicited third-party support from government and agricultural organizations and corporations. In addition, a series of advertisements ran in the major agricultural trade magazines and newspapers and were aired on farm radio stations during the few weeks leading up to May 16.

Since diseases can be accidentally introduced by a visitor to a farm, enumerators were asked to behave responsibly by showing sensitivity to the issues operators face, and by making sure their actions did not contribute to the risk of spreading infection.

If there was a biosecurity sign at the entrance or main gate ('Restricted access', for example), the enumerator did not enter the property, and another method (such as a phone call) was used to ensure that the operator received the census questionnaires.

Head office processing

Initial processing

The Census of Agriculture and Census of Population went their separate ways once the census field collection units had finished their preliminary checks. The units separated the agriculture questionnaires from the population questionnaires and sent them to the Census of Agriculture processing staff at the Data Processing Centre, where they were sorted, batched, and given a bar code label to register them in a control file. They were then electronically scanned, and their data automatically captured using Intelligent character recognition (ICR), a technology that reads data from the images and allows processing staff to reference questionnaires with the click of a mouse. Any responses not recognized by ICR were sent to an operator, who viewed the questionnaire images and entered the correct data into the system.

Automated processing and editing

Once the data were scanned, they were loaded onto an automated processing system that sent the data through a long and complex procedure. Its many steps—including several kinds of edits (clerical, subject-matter, geographic), matching or unduplicating individual farms, adjusting for missing data, validating data by comparing them with those from other data sources, and providing estimates—ensures data of the highest quality possible. The data that emerged at the other end of the system were stored in a database and used to generate publications and users' custom requests.

The list of agricultural operations compiled from the census was used to update the Agriculture Division's Register of Farms. This register was used to select samples of farms to be included in surveys in non-census years.

Follow-up and imputation

Those records with problems that could not be resolved in editing were flagged for telephone follow-up by a Statistics Canada employee to clarify the missing or incomplete data. Finally, those situations that could not be resolved through either edit or follow-up were handled by an imputation procedure that replaced each missing or inconsistent response with either a value consistent with the other data on the questionnaire or with a response obtained from a similar agricultural operation.

Data validation

Data validation followed the edit and imputation processes. At this stage, subject-matter analysts reviewed the aggregate data at various geographic levels and examined the largest values reported for each variable. The data were compared with previous census results, current agricultural surveys and administrative sources. Errors remaining due to coverage, misreporting, data capture or other reasons were identified and corrected. Where necessary, respondents were contacted to verify their responses. Near the end of the validation process, certification reports, containing results of the analysis and recommendations for publication, were prepared and presented to a review committee. These procedures ensure that published census data are of very good quality, and that the major variables are generally of highest quality. All tabulated data are subject to confidentiality restrictions to prevent disclosing information on any particular agricultural operation or individual.

Data quality

Quality assurance procedures to ensure complete and accurate information from every agricultural operation in Canada are reviewed and improved for each census.

In spite of efforts by enumerators to locate and enumerate all farm operations in Canada, each Census of Agriculture misses some farms, primarily because of the difficulty in correctly identifying an agricultural operation when none of its farm operators live on or near it. To reduce undercoverage, enumerators were instructed to ask a member of every household whether someone in the household was a farm operator. In addition, since 1991, an agriculture operator screening question has been on the Census of Population questionnaire to identify farm operators missed when the questionnaires were delivered. If a Census of Population questionnaire was returned with this question marked 'yes', and no Census of Agriculture questionnaire was completed, the Missing Farms Follow-up Survey contacted those households by phone to complete a questionnaire. Finally, the Coverage Evaluation Survey gave an estimated undercoverage rate for the 2006 Census of Agriculture of 3.4%.

Data dissemination

Once data are collected, processed, verified and certified, they are ready for public use. Census of Agriculture data are available at low levels of geography and are presented in various standard formats and through custom data tabulations. All published data are subjected to confidentiality restrictions to ensure that no respondent can be identified.

The section 'Census of Agriculture products and services' lists all products and services available from the 2006 Census of Agriculture.

Census of Agriculture marketing

This is the last stage in the census cycle. When all the data have been collected, processed and produced, users and respondents must be made aware of what products and services are available. The Census of Agriculture staff at head office and Advisory Services staff in the regional reference centres complete most of the promotion. A variety of activities—including mail-outs, media releases, feature articles, client visits and displays—make both the public and private sectors aware of 2006 Census of Agriculture products and services. The marketing, dissemination and communications divisions of Statistics Canada provide technical support.

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