The agriculture industry is an important contributor to the Canadian economy. It is formed of several different sectors including dairy, meat, poultry, and seed industries that employ people across Canada in various roles from growers to producers and distributors.

In this article, we look at the industry on the whole as well as key statistics for the different sectors within the agriculture industry. We also explore how much the different agricultural sectors export.

Agriculture Industry Statistics for Canadians

  • In 2021, agriculture in Canada contributed 1.6% of the country’s GDP.
  • The revenue for farmers from selling their agricultural products was $76.9 billion in 2021.
  • Canada exported agricultural products, fish and seafood, and processed foods to over 200 countries in 2021.
  • Less than 30% of employees in agriculture are women.
  • In 2019, there were 12.24 million cattle and calves and 13.93 million hogs on Canadian farms.
  • There were 4,775 poultry and egg producers in Canada in 2021.
  • The dairy industry is the second largest sector after red meat and livestock and was worth $8.23 billion in 2022.
  • The Canadian seed industry’s direct and indirect impact on the economy is around $6 billion per year.

Agriculture in Canada Overview

In 2021, primary agriculture, which includes work on farms, nurseries, and greenhouses, contributed $31.9 billion, which represents 1.6%, of Canada’s GDP. At the time, there were 189,874 farms in Canada covering 6.3% of Canada’s land area, which is 62.2 million hectares.

In total, the agri-food industry, which includes not just primary agriculture, but also food and beverage processing, employs 2.1 million people and provides one in nine jobs in Canada. In 2021, it generated 6.8% of Canada’s GDP, which is worth $134.9 billion.

While agricultural work is performed across Canada, it is mainly concentrated in Quebec, Southern Ontario, and the Prairies. In the last fifty years, the average size of farms in Canada has doubled following technological advances and consolidation of farms.

Farm market receipts, which are representative of a farmer’s revenue from selling agricultural commodities, were worth a total of $76.9 billion in 2021, which was the highest revenue on record. It showed an annual growth across the range of commodities of 4.7% with oilseed and grain showing the biggest increases. Two-thirds of all revenues were generated by the largest 10% of farms.

Exporting and the Domestic Market

The agriculture sector in Canada depends heavily on exporting and Canada is the 5th largest exporter of food products, both raw and processed, in the world. In 2021, exports from the agriculture and food sector were worth almost $82.2 billion. This figure includes not just raw agricultural materials, but also fish and seafood as well as processed foods. Products were exported to more than 200 countries in 2021.

The most important trading partner for Canada is the United States and over half of Canadian produce is exported to our neighbour in the south. We also receive over half of our imports from the United States. China is the second biggest market, with exporting to China increasing by 73.8% since 2012. Sales to the rest of Asia and Europe have also increased in recent years thanks to more diversified exports.

While the success of the Canadian agriculture sector depends on exports, the domestic market is also crucial for its performance. In 2021, Canadian consumers spent $186.7 billion on food and beverages, including tobacco and cannabis products. The food and beverages sector is the second biggest expenditure for Canadian households after accommodation.

Employment in the Agriculture Sector

According to Statista, 326,000 people were working in the primary agriculture industry in 2008. The number of workers has been falling ever since, other than in 2018 and 2019 when there were small increases. In 2022, there were 257,300 working in the sector.

The majority of Canadians working in agriculture are men. In 2016, 71.3% of all workers were men. Most are aged between 25 and 52, with 132,200 employees in the sector belonging to this group in 2020. 108,900 were over 55 years old and 38,200 were aged between 15 and 24.

Red Meat and Livestock Industry in Canada

The red meat and livestock industry includes beef, veal, lamb, mutton, pork, goat, horse, and rabbit, as well as bison and venison. in 2022, the annual shipments of the red meat industry were worth $24.72 billion.

While the meat processing businesses in Canada manufacture a variety of meat products, the main ingredient, at approximately 70%, is pork. The table below shows the size of the three main sectors within the meat and livestock sector in 2019.

Type of livestock

Number of livestock

Number of farms

Revenue

Percentage of total agri-food revenue

Cattle and calves

12.24 million

72,860

$8.3 billion

12.4%

Hogs

13.93 million

7,640

$4.6 billion

6.9%

Sheep and lambs

1,040,200

9,390

$189 million

0.3%

In addition to the above, there were 230,000 goats on 5,627 farms in Canada in 2016 producing meat, dairy, and fiber. Bison were kept on 975 farms in 2016 and their numbers totalled 119,300. 80% of Canada’s bison herding is in Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Deer and elk are also raised in Canada on approximately 600 farms. Their numbers have fallen between the 2016 and 2011 Census of Agriculture. In 2016, there were 37,343 deer and elk raised on farms.

Meat and Livestock Exporting

Canada’s beef and veal exports were worth $3.2 billion in 2019, having increased by 10% from the previous year. The US was the biggest market for Canadian beef with a 72% share of the beef exports. This included 722,872 live cattle, which were exported to the US for feeding, breeding, and processing. The US was also the main market for hog and pork exports. 55% of Canadian processed pork products were exported to the US in 2019.

Poultry and Egg Industry

Canada’s poultry and egg products contributed 6.7% of farming revenue worth $5.5 billion in 2021. That year, there were a total of 4,775 poultry and egg producers in Canada. Out of these 2,823 were chicken producers, 515 were turkey producers, 232 were broiler hatching egg producers, and 1,205 were egg producers. 60.4% of the 1.3 billion kilograms of chicken produced in Canada in 2021 came from Quebec and Ontario.

Poultry and Egg Exporting

While chicken meat is the main export product within the poultry and egg industry, breeding stock, eggs for hatching, and live birds, including ducks, turkeys, and geese, are also exported from Canada.

Over 12.1 million chicks and poults were exported in 2021 worth $44.7 million. They were exported to 25 countries with the US being the largest market again, representing 72% of the exports in dollars.

In the same year, 40.6 million hatching eggs were exported, with a total worth of over $74.7 million and 56% going to the States. In addition, 6.5 million kilograms of processed eggs and 21.3 million shell eggs were exported worth $18 million and $2.7 million respectively.

Dairy Industry

The dairy industry is the second largest agricultural sector after red meat in Canada. In 2022, the industry was worth $8.23 billion and there were 1,3919 million dairy cows and heifers across 9,739 dairy farms. During the same year, 94.5 million hl of regular milk was produced on Canadian milk farms. In addition, Canadian farms produced 1.49 million hl of organic milk.

After milk, cheese was the biggest product for dairy farms with 495.8 thousand tonnes of cheese produced in 2022. Yogurt came next with 371.3 thousand tonnes, followed by hard ice cream with 152.1 thousand litres, butter with 113.3 thousand tonnes, and skimmed milk powder with 83 thousand tonnes.

Dairy Industry Exporting

In 2022, Canada imported much more dairy products than it exported with imports totalling $1,358 million compared to $508.9 million in exports. Dairy products were mainly imported from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. The main destinations for dairy exports were, once again, the United States, as well as Saudi Arabia, the Netherlands, and France.

Seed Industry

Canada is a leading producer and processor of high-quality seeds and this has made it one of the major exporters of seeds. The combined direct and indirect impact on the Canadian economy is estimated to be over $6 billion per year, with seed sales in Canada and overseas being worth $3.5 billion. Because the fertile soil and different climate zones make it possible to grow a wide range of crops, there are over fifty seed varieties grown in Canada.

The seed sector includes many business types, such as seed growers, distributors, brokers, and exporters as well as those working in plant breeding and research. Businesses in the seed industry range from small farmers who grow the seeds to large multinational companies. In 2018, there were 3,487 seed growers in Canada.

Seed Industry Exporting

Canada exported seeds to over a hundred different countries in 2017 and 2018. The exports were worth around $646 million. $403 million came from exports to the United States, $47 million to China, $31 million to Ireland, $19 million to Japan, and $13 million to Turkey.

Industry Forecast

The agriculture industry is expected to continue growing and the net cash income is projected to be up by 1.2% in 2023 from the previous year. This follows a year-on-year growth of over 30% in both 2020 and 2021.

The average net operating income is expected to rise by 2.9% and the average farm family income by 6.9%. The main driver behind the increases, as well as expenses, in 2022, was price growth. While the prices are not expected to see similar peaks this year, the prices of agricultural commodities are expected to stay relatively high.

Even though the performance of the agriculture industry in Canada was positive overall, there were challenges too in 2022. COVID-19 continued to put pressure on supply chains both in Canada and globally and Russia’s war against Ukraine had an inflationary effect. In addition, the 2021 drought in Western Canada impacted the grains sector in 2022.

While inflation is expected to ease in 2023, continued supply-chain issues, the possibility of more droughts together with other severe weather events, and the ongoing war mean that the market will remain volatile.

Conclusion

The agriculture industry in Canada makes a significant contribution to the country’s economy and society. The agri-food industry provides over two million jobs and almost 7% of the country’s GDP. It also ensures that Canada has a supply of homegrown products and is not reliant on food imports.

While there are challenges to the industry, including more severe weather events and global competition, the agriculture industry is expected to continue growing in 2023 compared to 2022 albeit at a slower pace.

Frequently Asked Questions

In 2021, the agri-food industry contributed $134.9 billion or 6.8% to the country’s GDP. The contribution from primary agriculture was $31.9 billion or 1.6%.

There were 2.1 million people working in the agri-food sector in 2021. This includes the primary agriculture sector as well as the food and beverage production sector. In 2022, 257,300 people were working in the primary agriculture sector, which covers farms, nurseries, and, greenhouses.

The most common products include wheat, barley, and corn, livestock products such as pork, beef, and poultry, and milk and cheese from the dairy sector.

Sources