The special term "winter annuals" is used for crops that are planted and germinate in fall, spend winter in a dormant state, renew growth in spring and are harvested in July or Aug. A more useful classification of crops, based on the general trade use, divides them into CEREAL CROPS, FORAGES, OILSEEDS, orchard crops, BERRIES, VEGETABLES and special crops. Cereals are plants grown for the mature seeds they produce (eg, WHEAT, OATS, BARLEY, RYE, CORN).
Forage crops are grown for animal fodder. They may be harvested and stored until used, or grazed as a pasture or range crop (eg, GRASSES such as timothy and bromegrass, LEGUMES such as CLOVER and ALFALFA).
When cereal crops (especially corn) are harvested as whole plants, chopped and fed to animals, the crop is classed as a forage or fodder crop.
Oilseed crops are grown for their oil-bearing seeds (eg, soybeans, sunflowers, flax, canola). Orchard crops are edible fruits or nuts (eg, apples, peaches, pears, walnuts). Berries are small, fleshy fruits grown on a vine or small shrub (eg, strawberries, raspberries, currants, blueberries, grapes). Vegetables are herbaceous plants of which all or a part is eaten, raw or cooked (eg, carrots, onions, tomatoes, lettuce). Potatoes are classed as a trade vegetable but also considered a field crop when hectarages are large.
The term "special crops" designates crops that do not fit neatly into other categories (eg, tobacco, buckwheat) or vegetable crops traded in a manner different from the normal one, such as peas, beans or lentils, which are raised as field crops and sold like grain through the elevator system.
Canada lies in the North Temperate Zone; all its prairie farmland is N of the 49th parallel of latitude. Productive farming, therefore, depends upon crops that ripen early, if they are spring sown, or are winter hardy, if they are winter annuals, biennials or perennials. Unlike many producers in tropical and subtropical areas where 2 or more crops per year are possible, Canadians can rely on only one crop. The vastness of Canada and the variations in climate preclude accuracy in any general statement but, with the exception of the lower mainland of BC and southern Ontario (where less hardy crops survive), crop growth, other than for forage or for range, is secure only from May to Sept.
Victoria Day, around May 24, is a safe date for gardeners from coast to coast to transplant ORNAMENTAL and garden plants that have been started in GREENHOUSES. Late spring frosts may occur after that date, but the probability is not great. Early fall frosts occur in Sept; thus, the frost-free period is 100-120 days.
Canadian summers are usually quite warm, with temperatures often reaching over 30°C. These temperatures, coupled with adequate sunshine, make crop growth rapid. However, as the climate is continental, much of the farmland of Canada (especially the Prairie provinces) suffers from lack of moisture. Some grain crops are produced with as little as 375 mm of rain, but the moisture usually comes when needed for fast summer growth.
Canada's soils developed under regimes of varying amounts of rainfall and are dependent upon the inherent properties of the material from which they formed; thus, they may be either alkaline or acidic. In general, western soils are alkaline; eastern ones, acidic. Acid soils can be limed to alter the acidity, but the practice is costly and must be done annually. Liming is subsidized by some provincial governments. In eastern Canada, higher water tables and poor drainage reduce the capacity of soils to produce some crops. In spring, flooding can occur in some areas of all parts of Canada.
When settlers first opened up the country, many different crops were grown on each farm to provide subsistence. The practice is still followed in some remote regions or on isolated farms but, in general, crop production has been specialized to provide economic returns. As land prices increase, greater returns per hectare are needed, and producers have had to specialize. The choice of a crop is dictated by geographic region, latitude and moisture; therefore, there is a strong regional bias in the production of most crops.
Most wheat, oats, barley, rye, flax, canola, mustard and sunflowers are grown on the prairies. Wheat and summer fallow occupy about one-third of the total hectarage. Soybeans, tobacco and beans are grown mostly in Ontario; fodder and grain corn, in Ontario and Québec; fruit, in BC, Ontario, Québec and NS. Potatoes are grown in all provinces; sugar beets, in Manitoba and, under irrigation, in Alberta.
The major producers of cereal crops, oilseeds and some special crops aim their production for cash sales. The standard practice for such crops in the Prairie provinces is for farmers to have on-farm storage for a quantity of produce and to deliver the remainder to grain elevators, where it is graded, stored or shipped to terminal elevators for sale domestically or abroad.
The price is established by grade and quantity. Grading factors include purity of type, soundness, maturity and test weight. Because weather at harvest can greatly affect the quality of grain crops, grades obtained by farmers will vary by year, district and cultivar (commercial variety) grown. In Ontario, where quantities of winter wheat, soybeans, corn and field beans are grown, there is very little farm storage, and producers rely on feed and grain companies to purchase quantities of produce harvested in fall.
Many farmers produce cereal and forage crops for their own use as feed for livestock. Some farmers produce hay for cash sales; most, for home use. Other forage crops make up pasture and rangeland used for cattle production.
Many Canadian gardeners produce a mixture of vegetables, berries or orchard crops for their own use. With more extensive holdings, some off-farm sales are made, eg, "U-pick" strawberries or roadside stands for fruits and vegetables. A subsistence farmer normally plans to live off his farm but may supplement his income with some off-farm sales. Market-garden operations grow vegetables for local markets or shipment into large urban areas. Orchard crops, potatoes, tobacco, sugar beets and vegetables grown for off-farm sales are marketed through special systems.
Author J.W. MORRISON
Links to Other Sites
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Online
An extensive information source about Canada's thriving agricultural sector and related issues, studies, and government programs. From Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
Canadian Food Inspection Agency
See the latest news about food saftey issues in Canada from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
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.
Saskatchewan Grain Elevator
A brief history of the iconic Prairie grain elevator from the Canadian Museum of Civilization.
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.
A glossary of commonly used terms relating to geography, agriculture, and the environment. A Government of Manitoba website.
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.
Glossary: Prime and Marginal Agricultural Soils and Landscapes
A bilingual glossary of terms commonly used in the classification of agricultural soils and landscapes. Check other sections of this site for additional information on this topic. From the Government of Ontario.
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.
Southern Albion Farmsteads
An illustrated history of early farming practices and the establishment of homesteads in Ontario. From the "Town of Caledon Cultural Heritage Landscapes Inventory."
An online feature about planting and growing wheat crops and the history of producing foods made from wheat. See also information about other food crops. From Agrilogic International Solutions Inc.
Tillage for soil fertility before fertilizers
An academic paper about the impact of intensive tillage on soil fertility and the growth and productivity of cereal and fodder crops. From the Agricultural Institute of Canada.