OTTAWA (CP) - Canada has not been keeping them down on the farm. Between 1998 and 2001 the country lost 26 per cent of its farm workers, "the largest decline in about 35 years," Statistics Canada said Friday.
"Most affected were Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario, where main-job farm employment declined 30 per cent or more from 1998 to 2001," the agency said. "At the end of 2001 an estimated 313,000 people were primarily employed in agriculture."
Hardest hit by the decline were self-employed farmers with no employees - those most likely to run smaller farms as second jobs.
However, "while main-job farm employment has fallen dramatically in recent years, it has not meant the large-scale abandonment of farmland," says Statistics Canada.
The number of hectares planted with major crops was at an all-time high in 2001.
Poultry meat, egg and milk production has increased in recent years, while cattle and pig stocks have fallen slightly.
"Farm profits have not risen since 1996," the agency notes.
Net farm income was $2.6 billion in 2000, adjusted for inflation, compared with $11.1 billion in 1975.
"As a group, farmers are relatively old," the agency said. Many may be leaving the farm to retire.
"The median retirement age in agriculture is 66," meaning there are as many retiring below that age as above. The median retirement age for the general population is 62.
The survey indicates that spouses and children of farmers are also moving to off-farm work.
"In 1998, in every 100 farming households, there were 143 people mainly employed on the farm. By 2001, this number had dropped to 131."