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Economy, Agriculture

profitable crops, prairie farmers, preferential trade agreements, maple products, Canadian economy

Agriculture is not as important to the Canadian economy as it was in the 19th century, but it continues to be the mainstay of several regions and is a significant source of export income. In early 1996 there were 252,800 farms in Canada, averaging 247 hectares (611 acres) in size. Some 430,000 men and women worked on Canadian farms in 1995, representing 3.2 percent of the total labor force. The annual value of farm output amounted to C$26.7 billion in 1995, which was 2.1 percent of GDP. Because of Canada’s abundant production and relatively small population, it is a leading exporter of food products; these account for 8.5 percent of goods exported, compared with 0.5 percent for Japan, 5.4 percent for Mexico, and 7.9 percent for the United States.

Farm life is changing considerably as farmers adjust to new trends. One trend is consumer preference for foods with lower fat content, which has changed demand for specific products. For example, there is less demand for cream and more demand for vegetables. Also, government has reduced its subsidies to the industry, making it necessary for farmers to introduce more profitable crops and more livestock production, which is generally more profitable. Full-time farming is declining: 1995 figures indicate that, on the average, two-thirds of farm family income came from sources off the farm.

Farms in Canada are about equally divided between crop raising and livestock production. Wheat is the most important single crop, and the Prairie Provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan form one of the greatest wheat-growing areas of the world, producing more than one-fifth of the world’s supply. One-half of Canada’s wheat is grown in Saskatchewan. In recent years, prairie farmers have sought to diversify their crops to minimize the effects of bad crop years or reductions in the price of wheat. Thus they have increasingly shifted from wheat to other grains and oilseeds. After wheat, the largest cash receipts from field crops are obtained from canola, vegetables, barley, maize, potatoes, fruits, tobacco, and soybeans. Wheat exceeded its nearest competitor in output in 2001 at 20.7 million metric tons versus 13.6 million.

Canada’s agricultural sector is in two major parts. The first, dominated by grains and livestock, is geared to the export market, and farmers receive international prices. The second is sold within a protected Canadian market. These products, mainly dairy products and poultry, are regulated by provincial marketing boards that allocate quotas to individual farmers to preserve the farming sector and to match supply with demand. As a result, Canadian consumers pay a premium for poultry and dairy products. The future of marketing boards is in doubt, however, due to a recent agreement of the member countries of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which included Canada, to open agricultural markets to full global competition. GATT, now succeeded by the World Trade Organization, was an international body that promoted and enforced trade laws and regulations. It worked to minimize preferential trade agreements between countries and other barriers to international trade.

Livestock and livestock products are growing in importance and account for about 50 percent of cash receipts. Beef cattle ranching is a specialized industry in the west, especially in the dry grasslands of southern Alberta and Saskatchewan. In 2001 Canada had 12.9 million cattle, compared to 99 million in the United States. About one-tenth of these were milk cows. Canada also had 12.6 million hogs and 694,800 sheep. Ontario and Quebec rank highest in production of dairy products, with about 73 percent of the national output; in poultry farming, with 64 percent; and in egg production, with 55 percent. Quebec produces 82 percent of the maple products, and Ontario produces 89 percent of the nation’s tobacco crop. Fruit farming occurs in Ontario, British Columbia, and Quebec, with apples contributing about 40 percent of the total value.



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