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More Canadian women opting to become farm operators

More Canadian women opting to become farm operators

Numbers grow for the first time since 1991.

By Andrew Joseph,; Photo by Alora Griffiths on Unsplash

Women in the position of farm operators are beginning to once again make their mark in Canadian agriculture. Although that is good news, the results from Statistics Canada offer a mixed bag of emotions and data analysis.

According to Statistics Canada, the number of women supervisors and workers in technical positions has increased by 19.4 percent between 2017-2021 working in the industries of agriculture, natural resources, and other related production sectors.

According to the data analyzed by Susana Aclan and Zong Jia Chen for StatsCan, based on the 2021 Census of Agriculture Canadian female farm operator numbers increased for the first time since 1991, when the Census of Agriculture started collecting data for up to three farm operators.

In 2021, 79,795 women identified as a female farm operators, up by nearly 2,000 individuals from 2016 when there were 77,970 women.

This 1,825-person increase, or 2.3 percent, is important when compared to male farm workers over the same period, who experienced a 5.8 percent decrease.

The Government of Canada may take some of the credit for this increase in women's occupancy within the ag industry.

Federal initiatives, such as the Women Entrepreneur Program launched in 2019 with a $500 million investment over three years, have been introduced recently to better support female entrepreneurs involved in the agriculture and agri-food sector.

StatsCan said that in 2021, of all the farm operators in Canada, 30.4 percent were women, which is up from 28.7 percent back in 2016.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the number of people employed in the ag industry is increasing.

As you may have guessed, farm operator numbers are decreasing. In 1991, there were 390,875 total farm workers in Canada. As of 2021, that number has dropped to just 262,455.

While decreases in both male and female workers are observed, the rate of attrition for male farm operators has been greater between 1991-2021 (30 years).
The number of female workers has remained fairly constant over the past 30 years, usually decreasing, too, except for the 2021 numbers.
Where is the increase in female farm workers coming from? According to the report from Statistics Canada, one-operator farms are responsible for the entire increase in female workers in ag.

They prefer to do it alone.

First, for female farm operators managing multiple-operator farms, there was a decrease of 2.6 percent or 1,655 women in the years 2016-2021. Male operators for the same segment decreased by 5.7 percent.

But, the single operator category shows that there were 3,480 more women involved in 2021 at 16,590 people versus 2016. That’s an increase of 26.5 percent.

As of 2021, one in seven (14.9 percent) single-operator farms were solely managed by women. That’s an 11.55 percent increase over 2016 data.

Canada saw the largest net increase in female farm operators (2021 over 2016 numbers) in Alberta—1,065 more women, and Saskatchewan added 855 more women.

The largest female increase in female single-operator farms was in beef (1,495 women), and in oilseed and grain farms (1,035 women).

However, what seemed to make a huge difference in the growth of women in ag, percentage-wise, was the income of the farm. More women were involved in the highest tiers of farm revenue classes.

Farms making revenues of $1-million to just under $2 million, there were 1,325 women. In the next highest revenue stream of $2-million and over, there were 1,195 women involved.

Dropping down a bit, in the $500,000 to $999,999 revenue tier, 815 women were involved as farm operators. There were 410 women in the under $10,000 tier.

The report also shared that in the $2 million-and-over category of farm revenues, more men were involved here than in any other financial tier, at +2,600.

Age-wise, there are more women farm operators in Canada aged 55 years and over in 2021, than there were in 2016—an increase of 17.7 percent, or 7,245 women.

Between 2016 to 2021, the number of female farm operators aged 35 years old or younger (the younger group) and those aged 35 to 54 years (the middle-aged group) decreased by 620 women (-9.5 percent) and 4,790 (-15.8 percent), respectively.

For men, in the 35-and-under category, there was a decrease of 1,590 people (-8.7 percent), and a decrease in the 33 to 54-year-old age group by 13,005 (-19.0 percent).

This all points to a lack of true success in getting more young people involved in ag, than in anything else.

It shows that there was an increase for women, yes, but anyone who was 55 in 2016 is only 60 in 2021. Considering that women tend to live longer than their male counterparts, seeing an increase of women in this age bracket is not exactly surprising, nor awe-inspiring.

For us to see large growth in women in ag, we would like to see it within those just graduating from high school, college, or university, and moving into (or back into) the farming sector. Then again, the overall number of people (men and women) in ag, continues to decrease per data shown earlier in this article.

[NOTE: On a personal note from this writer, Farmers are Canada. Without the food grown to feed its citizens, we’d not be the country we are today. With the population always on the rise be it babies or immigration, the near and far future means the ag industry will need to produce more food.

It need not be with fewer people. We need to do a better job of getting the message out that Farmers are Canada. They are the stewards of the land. We need to show people that this is an industry with growth—not just in more crops or animals, but one where they can grow in a career in ag.

Again, still, on a personal note, this writer does not believe that message is being delivered effectively to students in rural areas, and more importantly, in urban areas where there are a greater number of students often wondering in high school, university and college just what they should do for a career. Oh, the years wasted getting a Political Science degree—done just so I could get something out of university.]

Where are female farm operators located in Canada?
Just like in 2016, in 2021 there were more female farm operators in Ontario, with 20,895 female farm operators, representing 26.2 percent of the national number.

Alberta was next (18,525), followed by Saskatchewan (12,010), and Quebec (11,690). The largest decrease was 535 women in British Columbia.  

But before we get down on British Columbia, we should point out that by proportion, that province had more women by percentage as farm operators than anywhere else in Canada. Of the 9,390 female farm workers there, it was 39.7 percent of all the farm workers in 2021. Also, more women worked on crop farms in BC than in any other province.

The lowest percentage of female farm workers was, unfortunately, in Prince Edward Island—only 320 total female workers, representing 20.0 percent of all the workers in the province. Women here worked mostly within the dairy and milk farm segments.

Across Canada, women saw huge representation in the sheep and goat farm industries. In 2021, 41.1 percent of all farm operators working on farms classified as sheep and goats, were women. This is an increase of 1.4 percent from 2026.

Overall, the oilseed and grain farms had the lowest percentage of female farm operators—at 25.6 percent representation in 2021.

For more information on female farm operators, visit the Census of Agriculture: Farm and Farm Operator Data Visualization Tool and the infographic, “A portrait of Canada’s female farm operators”.

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