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Farm numbers fall but some sectors in Alberta buck trend

Alberta lost six per cent of farms overall, according to the latest census but some sectors see gains

While the overall number of farms in Alberta declined by the same percentage as the national average in the latest census, there were differences by sector, says a provincial research analyst.

The 2016 Census of Agriculture found there were just over 193,000 farms in Canada, a six per cent drop.

“Alberta had over 40,600 census farms in 2016, a 6.0 per cent decline from 2011,” said Austin Leitch. “Despite the decline the province continued to rank second nationally, behind Ontario. Alberta continued to account for 21.0 per cent of farms in Canada.”

The census found Alberta had more than 12,600 cattle operations, up 1.5 per cent from 2011, and more than 26 per cent of the national total.

“Alberta represents over 34.0 per cent of Canada’s beef cattle ranching farms, up from just over 32.0 per cent in 2011,” said Leitch. “Dairy cattle farms fell about 15.0 per cent from 2011 to about 400 farms in 2016.”

The number of grain and oilseed farms rose, by 6.0 per cent in 2016 to just under 13,500 farms, (up from about 12,700 farms in 2011).

“Oilseed and grain farms have been on the rise since 2006,” said Leitch, adding the province is third in that category behind Saskatchewan and Ontario.

However, the number of hog operations fell by 14 per cent from 2011, the number of sheep and goat farms dropped by just over 19 per cent, and the number of potato operations decreased about 16 per cent.

The census also led to a revision in cattle numbers.

A year ago, StatsCan pegged the total number of cattle in Canada at 12.065 million head as of Jan. 1, 2017. But that was recently revised to 11.520 million head. Last year’s estimate had 4.850 million cattle in Alberta as of Jan. 1, 2017. The revised estimate for that date puts the number at 4.730 million head.

“These types of revisions are not uncommon after a census,” said Brian Perillat, senior analyst at Canfax. “It points to the importance of the census every five years, to ensure the quality of data for the industry.”

However, StatsCan estimates the national herd has grown slightly since then, with 11.625 million head and 4.755 million head in Alberta as of Jan. 1 of this year. The agency puts the national beef herd at 9.683 million head as of Jan. 1 with Alberta having 4.581 million head. Both numbers are up marginally from the revised year-ago numbers.

“The overall trends of the report were in line with our expectations, in terms of a few more cows and a few more cattle in Canada,” said Perillat. “We would prefer not to have adjustments, but it’s not uncommon to have adjustments to cattle and grains after a census.”

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