Is Canada’s Food System Sustainable? Canada’s food system is currently unsustainable, according to the leader of the Ontario Green Party, Mike Schreiner. From Public Voice TV.
Feeding the world. Dr. Murray Ballance, former professor at the University of Manitoba, speaks of the necessity to change agricultural practices globally in order to meet the needs for food requirements. From Nutrients for the mind.
A large proportion of Canada's pork, beef and live animal exports are to the United States which is, by far, Canada's largest export market for farm products. Most grain and oilseed exports, which are dominated by WHEAT and CANOLA, are to other, offshore markets. In recent years, Japan, the European Union, Mexico and the People's Republic of China have become major export markets for Canada. Wheat exports from Western Canada are controlled by the CANADIAN WHEAT BOARD. AGRICULTURAL MARKETING BOARDS perform a variety of marketing and regulatory functions on behalf of farmers for some other farm products.
Much Canadian agricultural production and food processing is relatively efficient, with lower costs than in many nations. On average, Canadians spend about 10% of their total household expenditure on food purchased in grocery stores for home consumption--a result of the combined effects of comparatively high levels of average income and relatively inexpensive foods. In contrast, the percentage of disposable income spent on food in other industrialized countries varies from 7% to 14%. When expenditures on food eaten away from home are added to home-consumed food expenditures, it is estimated that Canadian food expenditures account for about 14%, on average, of total household spending.
Farm Production and Structure
Major changes over time in the structure of Canadian agriculture are associated with growth in the Canadian economy and technical change in agriculture. These involve the longstanding, persistent and continuous trend to fewer numbers of larger, more capital-intensive farms as Canadian farmers have adjusted their farming practices in order to capture economies of specialization and size. As a result, fewer people are directly employed in agriculture, farms are larger and their capital investment is higher than was the case in earlier years. The average capital value of all recorded Canadian farms is around $925 000. Of this, the largest portion (over $700 000) is the value of farmland and buildings; machinery and equipment account for about $150 000 and livestock and poultry for $64 500. For larger farms, capital value is much higher. The use of chemical fertilizers and PESTICIDES has contributed to the reduction of unit costs of farm production. These inputs have increased the levels of farm output and reduced pest-related wastage and spoilage due to weeds and insects. Genetic improvements in animal breeds and crop varieties have resulted from AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH and have also contributed to increased agricultural productivity, as has emphasis in AGRICULTURAL EDUCATION on improved farm management.
High capital values of farms do not reflect moves to a corporate form of agriculture. Nearly all Canadian farms, including most of the small proportion of corporate farms, are owned and operated by farm families. However, there is much diversity in Canadian farming, with a continuing tendency for farms to fall into two quite different groups. Although the total number of farms is declining, there are increasing numbers of those commercial farms for which the annual value of sales is $250 thousand or more. In contrast, the number of farms with sales less than $250 thousand is declining. There are relatively large numbers of farms in this second group (over 80% of recorded farms), but in aggregate they account for a much smaller proportion of Canada's total farm output (about 25%).
In many instances farming is only one of a number of income-earning activities for farmers and family members in the smaller sales group. Some family members may work off the farm in local towns or nearby cities; others may work for larger farmers. Some in this group are farmers in transition: people moving into farming and those moving out of agriculture, including some older farmers who may be considering retirement.
Area and Use of Farmland
The majority of farmland is located in Western Canada. Some 38% of Canada's farmland is located within Saskatchewan, while Alberta and Manitoba contain 31% and 11%, respectively. Ontario accounts for 8% of farmland, Québec for 5%, BC for 4%, while Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island each account for less than 1% and Newfoundland and Labrador for a fraction of 1%.
A relatively small proportion of Canada's land area is suitable for farming (about 7%). Occupied farmland in Canada totals about 167 million acres (some 68 million hectares). Average farm size is around 730 acres and over 60% of farmland is owned by those farming it. Of the total farmland area, nearly 90 million acres are cropped and 12 million acres are in summer fallow. Summer fallow, originally introduced to conserve moisture (and to aid in weed control) in the more arid areas of Western Canada, has declined with recognition of the adverse effects of this practice on soil erosion and salinity. Some 14 million acres of farmland are used for pasture or grazing.
There is considerable variation between regions in the proportion of cropped land to pasture and grazing and much variation between and within provinces in the productivity of farmland. Land use patterns show a gradual increase over time in the proportion of Canadian farmland in crops.
Although farm size has continued to grow, this varies considerably by region, reflecting regional differences in the types of farming which are, in turn, related to differences in SOILS, CLIMATES, topography and proximity to markets.
The farms with the largest acreage are found in the Prairie region of Western Canada, where there are many land-extensive grain farms that produce wheat, BARLEY, oilseeds (mainly canola) and other crops. Beef production also tends to be concentrated in this region. Average farm size in Saskatchewan, in which grain farming predominates, is some 1500 acres. In addition to grain farming, much beef production is found in Alberta, where average farm size is about 1100 acres; the average farm size in Manitoba is 1000 acres.
In contrast to the Prairie region, average farm size, in acres, is smaller in BC (353), Québec (279), Ontario (233), and the Atlantic provinces (ranging from an average 364 acres in PEI to 160 acres in Newfoundland and Labrador). In aggregate, these regions include relatively large numbers of DAIRY and POULTRY farms that produce milk, broiler chickens, turkeys and eggs. These farm products continue to be relatively highly protected from import competition and are primarily sold for consumption in the domestic market. They are significant contributors to farm income in all regions except the Prairies, where they account for a more minor proportion of farm revenues. Over 70% of dairy production is concentrated in Québec and Ontario and provides 30% of farm cash receipts in Québec and 18% in Ontario; these provinces and Manitoba also include much hog production. Specialized crops including GREENHOUSE, floriculture and nursery products are largely found in Ontario and Québec. POTATOES, other vegetables and fruits are also grown in these regions, as well as in BC and the Atlantic provinces. New uses for farm products that may be used as inputs into bioproduct processing for biofuels, biochemicals, bioplastics or other industrial purposes are emerging in Canada.
The processing of farm and seafood products, together with food retailing, food service and the transportation and handling of agricultural products and food are major Canadian industries. Food, beverage and tobacco manufacturing is the country's second largest manufacturing sector, with some 3 347 processing establishments, accounting for 12.4% of manufacturing output and about 14% of manufacturing employment in Canada.
About one-fifth of the output of this processing sector is exported; the balance is used within Canada. Its largest components, in terms of the value of sales, are meat and poultry processing, followed by dairy products, beverages, bakery products and fruit and vegetable processing.
Government policy for agriculture (see AGRICULTURE AND FOOD POLICY) and food is developed at both federal and provincial levels and major programs are provided through Federal-Provincial agreements. Both levels of government provide significant support to agriculture. Direct and indirect support of farm income increased through the 1970s, but was reduced in the 1990s following international negotiations leading to the Agreement on Agriculture of the World Trade Organization. However, support has increased again since 1998. The 1994 Agreement on Agriculture of the World Trade Organization committed Canada and other member nations to move towards reform of distortions in agricultural trade. These included commitments to reduce tariffs and to replace non-tariff barriers by tariff-rate quotas that would provide more import access to protected domestic markets. Commitments were also made to reduce agricultural export subsidies and to reduce domestic support that distorts agricultural production and trade. In 1995 Canada eliminated the longstanding policy of the Crow Rate, which had subsidized the costs of rail shipment of grain to export points, and other transport subsidies. With higher grain freight rates, cheaper grain supplies in the Prairies have encouraged increased livestock production and feeding. Despite the 1994 trade reforms, international trade in agricultural products faces many barriers. International efforts to negotiate lower trade restrictions for agriculture began again in 2000 but have not been successful to this day. The major current support to Canadian agriculture is through transfers from consumers effected through the tariff-rate quotas that support supply management for dairy and poultry products, together with payments related to periodic emergency economic situations, mainly associated with livestock disease incidents or effects of drought. Continuing programs include crop insurance and evolving income stabilization plans. Government programs that focus on food safety are another major area of policy for the agricultural and food industry.
Market Prospects and Current Issues
In the first decade of the twenty-first century, world prices for agricultural products sharply increased. Possible reasons for this include relatively slow increases in productivity of major crops (attributed to insufficient agricultural research and poor policies for agriculture in some nations), increasing demand for improved diets in growing middle income countries (like China and India), increasing demand for crops for biofuels, and lower grain stock reserves. Higher agricultural prices have been accompanied by increased costs of farm inputs, including energy and fertilizer.
In recent years, the public is increasingly concerned about the environment, sustainability, climate change and food safety. In agriculture this covers a wide range of questions relating to such issues as soil and water conservation practices, organic agriculture, use of pesticides and chemicals in crop production, antibiotics in ANIMAL AGRICULTURE, and some types of agricultural biotechnology.
In a world where some 1 in 7 people go hungry every day, Canadians are fortunate to enjoy relatively abundant, cheap and safe food supplies. This has come about as a result of major economic and technical changes in both the Canadian economy and its food and agricultural sectors during the past century.
Author MICHELE and TERRENCE VEEMAN
Links to Other Sites
Agriculture for your classroom
This site features a glossary of agricultural terms. From Canada's Digital Collections.
Farm Business Communications
This site provides online articles from a selection of Canadian agricultural publications. From Farm Business Communications.
The Canada Agriculture Museum
The Canada Agriculture Museum in Ottawa showcases the history of Canadian agriculture and the connection between agriculture and familiar foods.
This tasty website offers a basketful of online resources about commercial tree fruit production. Also features information about tree fruit pests and fact sheets for backyard gardeners about varieties of tree fruit that can be grown in BC.
Canadian Food Inspection Agency
See the latest news about food saftey issues in Canada from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Explore this very extensive collection of photographs about Canada’s agricultural industry. Part of the CN Images of Canada Gallery at the Canada Science and Technology Museum website.
Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
An extensive information source about bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD.) From the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Ropin’ the Web
This Alberta government website provides current information about various agricultural issues.
Ontario Farm Animal Council
The OFAC focuses on farm animal care, environment, food safety and new technology. Their website provides fact sheets, an image database, educational resources, and links to other sites about animal agriculture.
A glossary of terms commonly used in Canada's agriculture sector. A Government of Nova Scotia website.
Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance
The website for CAFTA, a coalition of national and regional organizations, associations, and companies in the agriculture and agri-food sectors.
Canadian Food Firsts
This Canadian Geographic website features more that 100 years of Canadian culinary claims to fame.
Manitoba Agricultural Hall of Fame
Check out the life stories of people who have contributed to agriculture and the historical overview of agriculture in Manitoba.
Mad Cow: The Science and the Story
An in-depth look at the impact of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease) on Canada’s agricultural industry. Features audio and video news clips from the CBC.
In honour of the 60th anniversary of D-Day, the Archives of Ontario presents this stirring retrospective of Ontario’s extraordinary Home Front contribution to the war effort. Check out the personal stories, photographs, posters, video clips and other multimedia.
McCain Foods Limited
The website for McCain Foods Limited, the world’s largest producer of frozen potato products. Also produces green vegetables, desserts and other quality food products.
Canadian Culinary Federation
See what’s cooking at the CCFCC, Canada’s largest professional association of culinarians. Many tantalizing tidbits of information about the Canadian Culinary Institute, Culinary Team Canada, career opportunities, and even a few gourmet recipes.
This site is dedicated to Seager Wheeler, an award winning prairie farmer who developed new strains of wheat, unique farm implements, and other agricultural innovations.
Centre for Indigenous Peoples' Nutrition and Environment
This interdisciplinary research program at McGill University probes the nutritional and cultural values of traditional food sources and diets.
Meat Cuts Manual
Your illustrated guide to well dressed beef, poultry and other animal products. From the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Canadian Wheat Board
The Canadian Wheat Board, an agricultural marketing agency. Check out information about wheat varieties grown in Canada, organic grain, quality control issues, and related topics.
Eat Your History
A series of stories about the amazing histories of local food delicacies. From The Tyee website.
This glossary was developed to help you understand the terms used in the field of biotechnology. From the website for Health Canada.
Canadian Consumer Information Gateway
This site offers a wealth of information for Canadian consumers.
A glossary of commonly used terms relating to geography, agriculture, and the environment. A Government of Manitoba website.
See colourful online articles about farm to fork food safety issues of concern to consumers. From "Food Quality", a US magazine.
2006 Agriculture Community Profiles
These profiles present community-level information from the 2006 Census of Agriculture. Users can search for an area of interest by typing its "place name" in the box below or by clicking on a province from the list below and selecting the area from a list.
Glossary: Agricultural Words
A glossary of terminology used in the agricultural sector. A Government of Nova Scotia website.
Glossary: Plant Molecular Farming
A bilingual glossary of terms that relate to plant molecular farming technology. Check the rest of the site for additional information. From the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Consumers Council of Canada
The website for the Consumers Council of Canada, an organization that "works collaboratively with consumers, business, and government in support of consumers' rights and responsibilities."
Glossary: Meat Processing Regulation and Inspection
A glossary of terms related to regulation and inspection of meat processing operations. From the Ministry of the Attorney General, Province of Ontario.
Is there too much salt in food?
A news article about the amount of salt contained in processed food consumed by Canadians. From healthzone.ca.
Canada's Outstanding Young Farmers' Program
The website for Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers Program, which recognizes outstanding young Canadian farmers.
Health Consequences with High Fructose Corn Syrup Consumption
An article about health risks associated with the consumption of high fructose corn syrup. From the website for the University of British Columbia.
Experts have a taste for lowering salt intake
An article about strategies for lowering Canadian salt consumption. From healthzone.ca.
Cancer cells slurp up fructose, U.S. study finds
A brief article about some types of cancer cells that show a preference for fructose, a food additive sweetener found in many processed foods. From the healthzone.ca website.
A daily roundup of the latest news and information about the Canadian agricultural industry.
Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute
Check out this website for information and reports about current issues impacting on the productivity and competitiveness of Canada's agri-food sector.
An information page about quinoa, a food crop grown in South America. From the Canadian Grain Commission.