Agriculture is declining in Ontario as a whole but not so in Waterloo and Wellington areas of Ontario.
Agriculture is declining in Ontario as a whole but not so in Waterloo and Wellington areas of Ontario. This countertrend is the focus of the December 2015 Agriculture Research Project Waterloo Wellington report compiled by Carol Simpson, Executive Director of Workforce Planning Board of Waterloo Wellington Dufferin (WPB).
Over the past few years, the agricultural sector in this region has been growing. This newly released report provides specifics around this trend, including evidence of growing specialization into niche products which is providing additional opportunities, not just in on-farm Agriculture but also in Agriculture Support. It also asks whether this area is something of an incubator, giving farmers a strong start, perhaps as renters, who then grow their farms locally or move elsewhere to expand. According to the report:
“The research confirmed that new products and markets are being developed and that these can provide both economic and employment opportunities for both existing and new Agriculture businesses.” (p.1)
The report’s findings are based on two data sources:
- industry and employment figures from Canadian Business Patterns Data, released by Statistics Canada, and
- a survey of about 50 persons working in the Agriculture Sector in Waterloo and Wellington — mostly owners but some employees.
The immigrant connection
One aspect of the research was to investigate whether immigration is a factor in new product development and new markets/customer demand. The research did find immigration to be a factor but this is barely addressed in the body of the report. It does cite evidence of newer farmers renting space to specialize in sheep/goats for the Halal market and growth of production in crops such as quinoa and Chinese beans to supply ethnic markets.
A few highlights from the data
The data shows that growth is especially strong in Wellington County:
- Despite a decline in Beef cattle ranching and farming, including feedlots in Waterloo Region, the industry is growing immensely in Wellington County with 151 new businesses since June 2012. 78% of that growth is located in Mapleton with another 18% in Wellington North and 9% in Centre Wellington. (p.6)
- Dairy cattle and milk production is growing in Wellington, but declining in Waterloo. Growth is not consistent across the County and is concentrated in Mapleton with 91 new businesses, almost double that from June 2012. (p.6)
- Growth in Other grain farming (such as barley, oats, rye, wild rice) is exclusive to Wellington County with 95 new businesses since June 2012. The majority of this growth is in Centre Wellington. Evidence suggests substantial growth in hops production to supply the growing microbrewery market in the area and across Southwest Ontario. (p.7)
Author Carol Simpson argues that more research is needed to investigate specific key industry growth, the various reasons for that growth and how to best support future growth in these key industries.
Farmer Survey: Why do people get into farming?
The report includes results of a survey of farmers in Waterloo and Wellington, including questions about why they had chosen to be farmers. Interestingly, many of the farmer s did not have farming backgrounds such as growing up on a family farm. (See Figure 1.) Close to half (48%) of respondents were part of family farm operations, but another 41% indicated that they did not have a farming background. Almost half of these were entrepreneurs seeking new business opportunities.
Among those who had been farming for less than 5 years, fully 60% entered the sector for entrepreneurship and rural lifestyle/move from urban centres . 80% of those new farmers indicated that their location as Wellington County, and 20% in Waterloo Region. These newer farmers appear to be entering the field for less traditional reasons than did more established farmers.
The survey found that some 60% of newer farmers farmed more than 50+ acres within five years of commencing farming. The majority of Agriculture based businesses which report having employees (63%), have only 1-4 workers.
In closing, there is some evidence from the data that Wellington County is indeed an incubator for the province’s entire Agriculture sector, but the research report does not go so far as to make this statement. Rather, it speculates that IF it is an incubator, stakeholders much
“fully understand the opportunities and implications we are facing in order to be able to manage and maintain that momentum of growth/change and the next generation of new farmers.”
Sarah Wayland, Principal Investigator