Agriculture in Canada is among the most sophisticated and technologically advanced in the world. Farmers use scientific crop and soil analysis as well as state-of-the-art equipment. By 1996, more than one-quarter of all Canadian farmers used a computer in the management of their crops and livestock. In 2000, there were 7,100 square kilometers (2,741 square miles) of irrigated land. While it produces substantial quantities of food for domestic consumers and for export, Canada also imports a significant amount of agricultural products. Total agricultural imports in 1999 amounted to US$10.8 billion. The United States supplies Canada with roughly two-thirds of its total agricultural imports. Conversely, the United States is Canada’s main market for agricultural goods. In 1999, the United States was the destination for one-third of Canada’s exports of crops, livestock, and fish.
While the overall number of Canadian farms continues to decline, the decline has slowed in recent years and several provinces are in fact adding or gaining new farms. The decline in farms has slowed to under 1 percent per year, the lowest level of decline since 1941. Since 1991, British Columbia has increased its number of farms by 12.6 percent, Alberta by 3 percent, Nova Scotia by 1 percent, and Newfoundland by 0.8 percent. Ontario continues to have the largest overall number of farms—over 68,000—followed by Alberta with 58,000, and Saskatchewan with 56,000. The total number of farms in Canada is approximately 275,000. The average size of a Canadian farm is 608 acres. Contrary to the trends in the rest of the country, British Columbia has experienced dramatic growth in the number of its small farms. About half of all new farms in the province have gross profits of US$10,000 or less. The number of new small farms in British Columbia has increased by 14.7 percent since 1991.
The nation’s main crops are wheat, barley, corn, potatoes, soybeans, rice, and sugar beets. The dominant crop is wheat. In 1998 Canada produced 24,076,300 tons of wheat. However, there is less wheat under cultivation in Canada than at any time in the 20th century. This is the result of increased diversification and low worldwide wheat prices. The number-two crop was barley and the country harvested some 12,708,700 tons of it. Total crop output in 1998 was 53,701,500 tons. The primary livestock products are beef, chicken, duck, turkey, goose, and pork. Beef production is concentrated in the western areas of the nation while poultry production is concentrated in the east. About two-thirds of all poultry farms were in eastern Canada. Most livestock is consumed domestically. For instance, in 2000 beef production was valued at US$1.5 billion. Of this, US$70 million worth of beef was exported while the rest was consumed in Canada. The country also imported US$140 million of beef, almost all of it supplied by the United States. One out of every 4 farms in Canada raised beef.
One of the fastest growing segments of Canadian agriculture is organic products (food grown naturally and without pesticides, and sold without preservatives or additives). The organic food industry has been growing at a rate of 20 percent per year. There are now about 1,500 registered organic food producers in Canada. Organic production is strongest in the western areas of the country. There are also a growing number of specialty farms. For instance, there are now 1,593 farms whose main output is Christmas trees. In addition, the number of bison raised on farms for buffalo meat has tripled since the early 1990s, and the total number of head are around 45,000. There are also a number of exotic species, including llama and elk, being raised for sale in specialty markets. For instance, elk and deer antlers are sold to Asian nations for use in food products and tea. Specialized crop products include various herbs and spices such as garlic, ginseng, and coriander, cut flowers such as roses or lilies, and tobacco.
While fishing remains a prominent part of the economy of some provinces, depletion of fish stocks caused by over-fishing have led to significant declines in fish production. Fishing now accounts for only about 0.1 percent of the nation’s GDP or US$3.2 billion per year. Since the early 1990s, fishing’s share of the nation’s GDP has declined at an average of 2 percent per year.
Environmental problems have created concerns for Canadian agriculture. One of the major problems is that of animal waste and fertilizer runoff contaminating waterways. In 1996, there were 61 million acres that were treated with some form of chemical fertilizer and 57 million acres treated with herbicides. This represents a 15 percent increase in fertilizer use since 1991, and a 7 percent increase in herbicide use. A second major problem is that of soil erosion caused by overproduction.