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Rural Population

Figure RP-1. Number and Percentage Change of Farms in Saskatchewan, 1941 to 2001.
Canadian Plains Research Center Source: Constructed by author from Statistics Canada, Census of Agriculture, various reports

Since reaching a peak of 138,713 in 1941, the number of farms in Saskatchewan has steadily declined: there were 50,598 farms in 2001, which represented a 63.5% decline. The largest decrease in Saskatchewan (as shown in Figure RP-1) occurred between 1941 and 1951; the smallest declines of 12.5% and 9.6% occurred in the ten-year periods from 1971 to 1981 and 1981 to 1991 respectively. The slower rates of decline in these two decades are possibly the results of greater stability in Farming operations and more favourable prices and farming conditions in comparison to the earlier and latter decades in the sixty-year period under consideration. The decline in farm numbers was largely the result of the incorporation of smaller farms into larger farm units—not the retirement or removal of land out of production. In 2001, the average size of farms in Saskatchewan was 519 ha, which was 2.96 times larger than the average 175-ha farm in 1941 (as indicated in Figure RP-2). Saskatchewan has the biggest farms in Canada: this is the result of the large arable land base and of agro-climatic factors which require larger farm units for viable farms operations.

Figure RP-2. Average Size (hectares*) and Percentage Change in Size of Saskatchewan Farms 1941 to 2001. (*1 hectare = 2.471 acres)
Canadian Plains Research Center Source: Constructed by author from Statistics Canada, Census of Agriculture, various reports

The relative increase in farm size for each of the ten-year periods under consideration generally followed a pattern similar to the reduction in farm numbers: the largest increase in farm size of 27.4% occurred between 1941 and 1951, with the smallest increases of 14.8% and 12.6% occurring respectively in the 1981 to 1991 and 1971 to 1981 periods. Concomitantly, the earlier time period was characterized by the largest decrease in farm numbers, and the latter two decades were those in which the smallest decreases in farm numbers occurred. Some of the main forces behind the increase in farm size and the reduction of farm numbers have been the mechanization of farming, the substitution of capital for labour, and the application of other technologies such as fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides. As a result, the farm population is increasingly dependent on off-farm inputs, in comparison to previous time periods when the majority of farm inputs were produced on the farm. The increased dependence has created a cost-price squeeze which has also contributed to fewer but larger farms.

Figure RP-3. Percentage Distribution of Saskatchewan Farm Operators by Age Group, 1991, 1996, 2001
Canadian Plains Research Center Source: Statistics Canada, 2001 Census of Agriculture, Profile of Saskatchewan Farm Operators, Who's Minding Saskatchewan's Farms?

Farmers in Saskatchewan are more likely to rely on crop production, particularly Wheat, in comparison to farmers in Manitoba and Alberta, who tend to have more diversified operations; however, they too are responding to changing marketing conditions and engaging in more diversified types of crop and livestock production. The relative size of the farm population has also declined, and is not immune to the demographic factors that affect the rest of the population: the general declining fertility rate since the “baby boom” is also apparent here. In comparison to previous periods when farm families of six or more were relatively common, the farm family of the 1980s, 1990s and the beginning of the 21st century are more likely to have only one or two children. In 2001, the total farm population in Saskatchewan was 123,385, which represented a 15.2% decline from 1996 and made up 12.6% of the provincial population.

Like the majority of modern industrialized nations, Canada has witnessed an increasing concentration of its population in larger urban centres. This urbanization, which possibly began at the time of the initial settlement or shortly thereafter, has transformed a basically rural country into an urbanized nation dominated by a relatively small number of large metropolitan centres. It has created an almost complete reversal of the rural urban population from shortly after Confederation in 1867 to the start of the new millennium in 2001: in 1871 less than one in five (19.6%) of the Canadian population was classified as an urban resident, whereas one in five (20.1%) was part of the rural population in 2001. There is considerable variability in the relative sizes of the rural and urban populations across the different regions and provinces of Canada. For much of its history Saskatchewan could be considered a rural agricultural province, although the majority of the provincial population is now urban. A larger proportion of the Saskatchewan population was classified as rural residents for all sixty years under consideration than was evident for the total Canadian population for those years: this is largely due to the greater involvement and dependence of the Saskatchewan labour force on farming, Mining, Forestry, and other extractive activities in comparison to the residents of other regions and provinces.

Urban Saskatchewan residents are largely distributed between two major centres (Saskatoon and Regina) and ten smaller regional centres. Of the 978,933 people living in Saskatchewan in 2001, 196,811 resided in Saskatoon and 178,225 lived in Regina. Saskatoon experienced a 1.6% increase in its population from 1996 to 2001, while Regina had a loss of 1.2% of its population during this same five-year span. Ten smaller regional centres accounted for 138,844 of Saskatchewan’s residents in 2001; seven of these experienced a decline in their populations from 1996 to 2001. The three centres that increased their populations were Lloydminster, Humboldt and Estevan. Urbanization in Saskatchewan and other provinces is more than the increasing concentration of population in larger centres: it is also the increasing concentration of businesses, services (education, health) and opportunities, and the relative decline or closure of these services in the rural areas and trade centres. With the closure of grain elevators, businesses, schools, Hospitals and other services, the rural population is required to travel greater distances for these services.

The changing relative size of rural and urban populations is largely the result of migration of population from rural to urban areas for employment, educational and other opportunities, and of the displacement of people out of farming as a result of mechanization and other technological developments. As indicated earlier, the farm population is not isolated from the demographic trends which characterize the general population in Canada and other industrialized countries. The graying of the Canadian and other populations is also evident in the farm operator population in Saskatchewan: in 2001, the average age of the farm operators in Saskatchewan was 50.9 years, which was 1.5 years greater than in 1996; and the average age of farm operators is greater than that of other Canadians in the self-employed and general labour forces. As shown in Figure RP-3, the percentage of farm operators in the age group under 35 years of age decreased by 7.7% from 1991 to 2001, while the percentages in the two older age groups increased during that ten-year period. The relative increase or stability in the older age group is possibly the result of the operators continuing to farm beyond the normally accepted retirement age of 65, because few younger operators are willing or able to purchase farm operations. Other reasons that discourage younger people from entering farming are the attractions of higher and more regular incomes, regular hours, paid vacations, and other benefits associated with non-farm occupations most likely located in urban centres.

All age groups participate in non-farm work at varying rates as a means to supplement the variable and somewhat uncertain incomes derived from the farm operation. This participation has increased for all age groups: the largest increase occurred in the youngest age group, in which the proportion working at a non-farm job went up from 46% in 1991 to 56% in 2001. The decrease in the number of farmers in all age groups and the dramatic decline of those belonging to the younger age group introduce some serious questions about the farmers of the future and the future of farming.

David Hay

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This web site was produced with financial assistance
provided by Western Economic Diversification Canada and the Government of Saskatchewan.
University of Regina Government of Canada Government of Saskatchewan Canadian Plains Research Center
Ce site Web a été conçu grâce à l'aide financière de
Diversification de l'économie de l'Ouest Canada et le gouvernement de la Saskatchewan.