Monday, 14 January 2008

18 may 2006 for june 2006 issue of Rural Voice

Making sense of the agricultural census

A column by John Beardsley

The planting season has been one of the best on record and this has been the most positive news in agriculture since the Paul Martin government was defeated. Getting a crop in and off to a good start is the most crucial operation on the farm. It has been said that a farmer’s time at planting is worth hundreds of dollars per hour because of how important it is to get crops planted in a timely manner. Which is why farmers are especially irritated these days by surveys and salesmen. Unfortunately this attitude has also rubbed off on the good men and women who are trying to get the Agricultural Census completed. The grassroots movement has been openly talking about actively boycotting the whole process. One Farmer from Middlesex County has said that information is worth 250 dollars and he doesn’t want to give away the information for free. I’m not holding my breath this would ever happen because of the precedent it would set. The census is not a new phenomenon foisted on us by an increasingly heavy-handed government keen on reducing the number of farmers in Canada. I read in the gospel of Luke back 2000 years ago in Bible times that “Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world”. 2000 years ago everyone had to travel back to their own town to register. We can fill out this census on the Internet.

I understand the frustration causing people to lash out at the census because of the lack of serious response from the government to a very real farm income crisis. But the data collected from this census will show some of the dramatic changes that have occurred in the last five years. I think this information will be more useful to us to confront the government than the short hit we might get on television or in the press by boycotting it. If you have already decided not to comply I would ask you to reconsider. Although census day was May 16th Stats Canada will still accept forms filled out now. In fact if you haven’t sent yours in you can expect a visit from an enumerator. Some people are concerned that the information will be used to check the accuracy of your tax form and you may unwittingly get in trouble or cause an audit. It has always been the case that all information on census forms, including financial information, is protected under confidentiality provisions in the Statistics Act. All census representatives are sworn to secrecy and could be prosecuted if they were ever to reveal a respondent's personal information.

Here is some interesting information gleaned from stats canada’s press release. In 1931 the census — the first to specifically record the farm population — noted that 3.3 million of Canada’s 10.4 million people lived on farms, a whopping 31.7% of the population. Still more lived in rural areas closely tied to the agricultural sector. While the Canadian population had grown to over 30 million by the 2001 Census, the farm population had dwindled to only 2.4%. This fact is a big reason why we get ignored. Farmers, a minority even in many rural areas, still produce over 8 percent of the gross domestic product. Canada’s 247,000 farms have been producing more than ever before. In 2001, only 346,200 Canadians identified themselves as farm operators, a drop of nearly 40,000 since 1996. In Bruce, Grey and Huron Counties, the last census identified 11,170 people running 8059 farms. (Sorry Perth and Rainy River I forgot to ask for your numbers). While the numbers of farms and farmers in Canada has been shrinking, the area of land in crops has been growing. Between 1981 and 2001, a 17.5% increase of land in crops brought the national total to nearly 90 million acres. Farms in Ontario were part of this trend, working nearly 60 thousand acres more land in crops in 2001 than 20 years before. This is an impressive 9 million acres of cropland in Ontario. While no one likes filling in forms, failure to help collect accurate information may actually shoot farmers in the foot.

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