Agriculture: farming, food and much more
We've all seen the slogan - hand-written on placards, embroidered on ball caps and t-shirts, pasted on signs stuck in the ground at the end of a long driveway:
"If you ate today, thank a farmer". It should be common sense - food comes from farms. But the fact is most Canadians today are far removed from a typical family farm, making it a challenge for us to understand what farmers must do to raise the cattle, grow the grains or harvest the produce that are the foods we eat every day.
However, if you're like most Canadians, you are very interested in where your food comes from. You want to know where it was grown and how it was produced. You want your food grown in a way that is friendly to the environment. You want assurances that your food is safe.
In the 1930s, one out of every three Canadians lived on a farm. Today, only about 2% of the population live on farms.
If you're in that other 98%... then take a few minutes to learn about farming, agriculture in Canada and the role of the federal department of Agriculture and Agri-Food.
Why is agriculture important?
Agriculture and agri-food is so much part and parcel of the country's fabric that it is sometimes easy to overlook that it is also one of Canada's most dynamic and innovative industries. Agriculture and agri-food plays a huge role in the Canadian economy. It takes nearly 2.1 million Canadians - farmers, suppliers, processors, transporters, grocers and restaurant workers - to bring that food to tables in Canada and around the world. And their work is responsible for making the agriculture and food sector one of Canada's top five industries, accounting for one out of every eight jobs in the country.
If we look at the food and beverage processing aspect of the sector by itself, it amounts to being the second-largest manufacturing sector in Canada after transportation.
Moreover, advances in science and technology promise to expand the already considerable presence of the agriculture and agri-food sector in Canadians' lives.
Biomaterials for construction, bio-fuels and plant-based products that foster health and wellness - these are just some of a vast array of exciting new features in agricultural production.
What do we produce?
Top commodities by province and territory
Did you know?
- The average farm in Canada produces enough food to feed 120 people every day. The farms in our grandparents' or great-grandparents' day produced enough food for 10 people each day.
- It takes about 15 to 20 years to develop a new crop variety. Since the department's inception in 1868, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada scientists have developed hundreds of new crop varieties for Canadian farmers.
- Canola was developed in large part by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada scientists and is now the oil of choice for millions around the world because of its nutritional attributes. Today, canola generates $14 billion in economic activity per year.
- There are approximately 3.7 million beef cattle in Canada. That's slightly more than the entire population of Alberta.
- Each year, about 17 million pigs are raised in Canada. Canada is the second-largest pork exporter after the United States.
- On average, a five-row shelterbelt of trees around a barn will reduce the energy needed to heat it by 25%. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has distributed 600 million trees throughout the Prairies and Peace River region of British Columbia. How many is 600 million? If you could grow trees in space, you could plant a shelterbelt up to the moon and halfway back.
- Canada is the largest producer and exporter of flax in the world. Flax seed is bursting with health benefits such as fibre and omega-3 fatty acids.
- We don't often think of all the non-food uses for agriculture. Did you know the airbag in your car contains cornstarch? Or that diabetic test strips contain an enzyme found in horseradish? Or that canola oil is part of the compound used to de-ice planes? Or that some shampoo and skin care products contain oats? The list goes on and on....
- The Canadian wine industry has grown immensely in the last decade. Since 1997, sales have nearly doubled to $1.5 billion in 2007.
- In 1968, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada released Stella, the first self-pollinating cherry - with good fruit quality - in the world. Self-pollinating cherries simplify orchard management and ensure consistent cropping levels each year. Most new sweet cherry varieties grown around the world are linked to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's breeding program because they are self-fertile, a characteristic inherited from Stella and its descendants.
- Canada produces about 85% of the world's maple syrup, most of it in Quebec.
- The Shepody potato variety, developed by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada scientists in Fredericton, is the second-most popular potato variety in Canada and a favourite around the world for french fry production.
- Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada holds one of the world's largest insect collections and oversees several world-class genebanks designed to preserve our plant and animal diversity for future generations.
What does Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada do?
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada is a department of about 6,400 employees. The department came into being in 1868 - one year after Confederation - because of the importance of agriculture to the economic, social and cultural development of Canada. The work of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada - often done in collaboration with the provinces and territories, as well as our partners in the industry - can be broken down into three broad roles:
- We develop policies and programs to help farmers and the sector maximize its long-term profitability and competitiveness in Canada and abroad. Like other business sectors, the agriculture and agri-food sector is subject to shifts in global competition. But arguably, more than other sectors, farmers face risks that go well beyond market or technology risk. Their production planning and even their livelihood can be easily swamped by weather or disease or by dramatic trade actions - all factors beyond the control of farmers. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada farm income programs, often cost-shared with the provinces, help during these times, as do programs to assist with marketing, adaptation and farm and food safety. Canada is also among the world's most trade-dependent countries in agriculture, making export opportunities crucial for the growth of many agricultural industries. Nearly half of Canada's agricultural production is exported to about 200 countries, the main ones being the U.S., Japan, Mexico and China.
Both at home and internationally, the sector is adjusting to satisfy ever-shifting consumer demands. The question of where food is grown and processed is coming under increased scrutiny, not just in Canada but also in other countries, including our trading partners.
To meet these demands, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada works closely with other government departments and agencies, such as the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada, as well as other stakeholder groups and industry to ensure our food is safe.
- We are contributing to a better natural environment for all Canadians. Farmers are justifiably proud of their commitment to environmental stewardship. They know that managing the effects of agriculture on the environment can help sustain their farms for the long run and improve their bottom lines.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, with farmers and other governments, is providing leadership to improve the environment, including better information and research on the links between agriculture and the environment. Our programs and technical expertise on water, soil, air and biodiversity help farmers improve their environmental stewardship and make environmental considerations a farm business priority.
Building on their historical traditions as stewards of the land, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada continues to work with farmers and their associations to adopt environmental best practices. For example, nearly 60,000 producers - 25% of Canada's producers - have completed Environmental Farm Plans as part of an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada initiative. Environmental farm planning helps ensure that Canadians have clean air, soil and water and that their food comes from sustainable farming practices.
- We research. Through its research, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has led innovation in the farming sector for more than a century. In the early 1900s, it was a dedicated scientist from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada who developed the first variety of wheat that would mature early enough to be grown in the Prairies' short growing season - before the frost hit. Marquis wheat flourished in Canada's cool northern latitudes, and Canada earned its reputation as the
"bread basket of the world". With this discovery, thousands immigrated to this country to farm the land.
Today, about half of all agricultural-related research done in Canada is conducted by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada scientists and staff at 19 research centres across the country.
To ensure the Canadian agriculture and agri-food sector continues to be innovative, our scientists tackle new challenges every day, such as researching the connection between agriculture and preventative medicine. They also continue to look for ways to improve existing crop varieties - making them resistant to disease and drought; to keep animals healthy through better diet or farming practices; and to ensure our food is safe.
Much of this work is done in collaboration with universities, the agri-food industry and producers. Although the process is a long one, the benefits of this research are all-encompassing: society can make healthier food choices, and farmers benefit from new practices and new products for new markets.
Who do we work with?
To forge an innovative, environmentally sustainable and competitive sector, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada works with many partners. We collaborate and consult with farmers, commodity organizations, national farm associations and industry groups.
We also work closely with provincial and territorial governments, as well as other federal departments and agencies.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada is part of a portfolio which consists of the following:
- The Canadian Dairy Commission oversees pricing, policy co-ordination and marketing for the Canadian dairy sector.
- The Canadian Food Inspection Agency delivers all federal inspection services related to food, animal health and plant protection.
- The Canadian Grain Commission is the regulator of Canada's grain handling industry. It is a scientific leader in grain quality research. It also certifies the quality and quantity of Canadian grain shipments.
- Farm Credit Canada delivers financial services to all sectors of agriculture - primary producers, value-added businesses and suppliers.
- The Farm Products Council of Canada supervises the operations of national poultry and egg marketing agencies.
All of these partner organizations work in close collaboration with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to strengthen the sector and ensure its long-term viability.
How can you get more information?
Call: 1-800-O-Canada (1-800-622-6232)
Mail: Public Information Request Service
1341 Baseline Rd
Ottawa ON K1A 0C5