The number of farms in Canada fell 10.3 per cent from 2006 to 2011, Statistics Canada says in its latest agricultural census released Thursday.

The census shows there were 205,730 farms last year, down by 23,643 over five years.

Five facts from StatsCan’s latest study:

  • For the first time, people 55 and over represented the largest share of total operators, accounting for 48.3 per cent in 2011.
  • Farm operators under 35 represented 8.2 per cent of the total in 2011, a decrease from 9.1 per cent in 2006 and less than half the proportion of 19.9 per cent two decades earlier.
  • In 2011, 4.7 per cent of Canadian farms, or a total of 9,602, reported $1 million or more in gross farm receipts, a 31.2% increase from 2006.
  • In 2010, 46.9 per cent of operators worked off the farm, down from 48.4 per cent in 2005.
  • Just over one-third, or 34.0 per cent, of farms reported using paid labour.

The number of farm operators fell by 33,135, or 10.1 per cent, to 293,925.

StatsCan also found a shift away from livestock-based farms to crop-based operations.

The number of Canadian farms has been declining steadily since 1941.

In the period from 2006 and 2011, that trend continued, with the number falling in every province except Nova Scotia, where it rose 2.9 per cent.

There was a similar trend with the number of operators, which fell everywhere in Canada except Nova Scotia, where it increased 2.5 per cent, and British Columbia, where it was up marginally.

Farms getting bigger

Farms are getting bigger. In the five years to 2011, the average size of Canadian farms increased 6.9 per cent from 295 hectares to 315 hectares.

The largest increase was in Saskatchewan, where the average farm size increased 15.1 per cent to 675 hectares.

The gap between crop production and beef-raising farms widened.

In 2006, oilseed and grain farms accounted for 26.9 per cent of all farms and beef farms accounted for 26.6 per cent.

By 2011, the share of oilseed and grain farms had increased to 30.0 per cent, while the share of beef farms had declined to 18.2 per cent.

The discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in Canadian cattle in May of 2003 resulted in many export markets closing their doors to Canadian cattle and beef.