Canada’s Farmers, like America’s, are Retiring

A recent report analyzing the immediate future of Canadian farm operations is ringing some alarm bells. The report, co-authored by the Arrell Agrifood Institute at the University of Guelph in conjunction with the Royal Bank of Canada, says that more than 40 percent of farm owner-operators will retire over the next decade.

The report states Canada will be short about 24,000 general farm, nursery, and greenhouse operators by 2033. And this same report brings to light the estimate that about two-thirds of all existing farm owner-operators do not have a real succession plan in place.

Dr. Evan Fraser is a professor at the University of Guelph and the director of the Arrell Institute. Fraser says Canadian agriculture is facing a crisis that requires an urgent response.

“Farmers in this country, they’re getting older. And, a lot of farmers don’t have what are called succession plans. They don’t have real plans to pass the farm on to the next generation. And the high cost of land means that it’s really hard for a young person to get into farming. This is a gap we’re going to have to address with some urgency.”

In Manitoba, husband and wife Lorne and Chris Hamblin farm a four-thousand-acre cash crop operation south of Winnipeg. While they are currently writing a farm succession plan, the Hamblins wish that they had started working on their plan earlier.

“All the Baby Boomers like us, we’re retiring, and so we better have something in place. Farmers need to start looking at that in their 30’s and 40’s, not waiting until they’re 60 or 70, and try to figure out how they’re going to succeed the farm onto other farmers. A century ago, if you were on the farm you stayed on the farm, and that was your only option. Now, the world is open.”

Chris Hamblin brings up a good point. The 1990’s saw a real downward trend in young people remaining on the farm or coming back to the farm after college. However, many of those did stay to work in the farm community – doing things other than actively farming.

Back in the ‘90’s agriculture schools experienced a severe enrollment decline, so colleges and universities began to offer cross-disciplinary, ag-oriented courses in order to increase enrollment. And it worked to the benefit of those industries that support those who remained on the farm and the few who returned to the farm.

Keith Currie, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, explains where many of the farm kids went.

“There’s such a wide gamut of career opportunities in services that support agriculture, that are vitally crucial to the success of this business. Whether it’s an advisor or banker, accountant, to all the various sciences. Crop genetics, we need livestock genetics, we need soil sciences, software technicians, we need veterinarians, we need people to design equipment.”

The Arrell Institute’s report does offer at least one solution to the impending farm operator shortage. The report states that, over the next decade, Canada will need to accept about 30,000 qualified and permanent immigrants to take over existing farms and greenhouses or who are willing to establish their own.