Recently released numbers from the Census of Agriculture show that the number of farms across the country is down over the last five years. Every province saw a decline — except Nova Scotia, which saw a modest increase.
When I mentioned this to my friend Av Singh, who is a small farm and organics consultant, he said he wondered how much of that increase he was responsible for. That’s because Av deals with a lot of folks who do small-scale farming, but don’t see themselves as “real” farmers.
He tells them they are indeed real farmers — in fact, that the future of farming may depend more on people like them than on large, centralized operations — and he encourages them to take advantage of the benefits that come with registering your farming operation.
So is the number of farms up in Nova Scotia? Or are there just more people reporting farm income? I looked at this question in a recent article for the FCC Express. Here’s the piece:
Number of Nova Scotia farms increasing
by Philip Moscovitch
Nova Scotia is the only province that saw its number of farms increase between 2006 and 2011.
According to Statistics Canada’s most recent Census of Agriculture, the number increased by 2.9 per cent, to 3,905. Nationally, over the same five years, the number of farms decreased by just over 10 per cent.
But nobody knows whether there are a lot more farmers, or just better reporting. Department of Agriculture spokesperson Adele Poirier says that more small farms have registered, and that some mink farms were missed in the 2006 census.
“We’re not saying the number of farms hasn’t increased, but we don’t know if it has increased as much as the numbers would indicate,” she says.
Organics and small farm consultant Av Singh says he suspects that more farmers are registering their operations — and that’s good for agriculture in the province.
“We had a strong push to have more farmers register,” Singh says. “I think many food producers were seeing themselves as hobby farmers or boutique farmers, but they are recognizing that they have a valuable role to play in terms of food production, food security, and food sovereignty.”
While Singh suspects much of the increase in farm numbers comes from registrations, he also points out that the province is successfully attracting new farmers too.
“I think we are getting farmers from Germany, from the U.K., and from the U.S.,” he says. “But I think we can do a better job in defining the kinds of farmers we want to attract and be more strategic in how we attract new farmers in a way that can be synergistic to Nova Scotia agriculture.”
Fraser Hunter, an organic dairy farmer who came to Nova Scotia from the United Kingdom, calls the province “the land of milk and honey,” saying, “we can produce milk and honey and a lot more too.”
Having relatively low land prices compared to other jurisdictions, as well as Canada’s largest number of farmers’ markets per capita (Singh says there are about 50) doesn’t hurt either.
Bryan Dyck and Shannon Jones met while working on farms near Guelph, Ont., but wound up settling down on 15 acres in northern Nova Scotia, where they have a mixed vegetable farm.
“One reason that coming to Nova Scotia was really attractive to us as farmers is that land is much more affordable here than in southern Ontario,” says Dyck. “We paid $55,000 for 15 acres, and we are less than an hour from Moncton. You can’t find prices like that anywhere in Ontario close to a fairly large city.”
Singh says farmers in Nova Scotia tend to support rather than compete with each other — and that encourages more people to take up agriculture.
“Other farmers are very supportive and encouraging,” Dyck says. “There are middle-aged farmers who are a great resource.”
While we may not know exactly how many new farms there are in Nova Scotia, it’s clear the numbers are not decreasing. And Singh thinks the count may go up quite a bit more for the next census.
“The ThinkFarm push by the Department of Agriculture to encourage new farmers has definitely increased awareness of the benefits of registering as a farm,” Singh says. “But I still think there’s some work to do out there, and the numbers may go up some more.”