The anatomy of a Canadian farm

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With Canadian farmers trying to diversify in light of tough economic times, many of them are turning to trucking. While this may seem like a good solution to the driver shortage plaguing the trucking industry, it does more harm than good when farmers abuse their status.

Perhaps this trend is a reflection of the times, as farmers are taking it on the chin more than ever before – particularly in transportation costs.

The latest info from Statistics Canada indicates the number of farms in Canada is declining at a record rate. Since 1996, the number of Canadian farms has dropped by 11 per cent, continuing a trend that first emerged 60 years ago. The decline noted in the 2001 agriculture survey was the largest yet.

However, while the number of farms is decreasing, the average farm size is actually growing. The latest statistics indicate it’s the smaller farms that are closing shop, most of them with gross receipts of less than $100,000. That’s a category, however, that two-thirds of all Canadian farms fall into.

For the most part, the latest census information indicates farmers are raising more cattle, hogs and poultry than ever before and are devoting more land to crops. Unproductive land is being converted to cropland, which should result in more freight for grain and livestock haulers.

Wheat is still the primary crop grown in Canada, however other commodities are gaining momentum. Many crop operations are also expanding to include livestock in an effort to diversify. Another interesting trend is that less traditional animals are gaining in popularity, creating opportunities for niche animal haulers.

Exports increased for Canadian hogs, cattle, pork, beef, oilseeds, pulse crops and hay. The fastest movers are soybeans and dry field beans.

One of the biggest challenges facing farmers remains transport costs – especially in the Prairies. The 1995 phasing out of the Western Canada Grain Transportation Act has hurt many farmers. The legislation had helped offset the cost of moving grain to the nearest port. With wheat prices on the decline, farmers are looking for cheaper ways to move their goods, another possible explanation for the trend of farm plate abuse.

Since the last agricultural census in 1996, the number of hogs grown in Canada has surged by 26 per cent, while the number of farms rearing hogs declined by about the same percentage. Hog farms are ramping up production thanks to international demand. Cattle numbers were also up in 2001, largely because crop farmers are raising cattle to offset grain transportation costs. Raising cattle allows them to feed their large supply of grain to cattle and export the animals for bigger profits.

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Truck News is Canada's leading trucking newspaper - news and information for trucking companies, owner/operators, truck drivers and logistics professionals working in the Canadian trucking industry.

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