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Agriculture Today

Modern FarmThe past century has seen the growth of a dynamic agricultural industry in Alberta. In that time, the industry has undergone significant changes. The number of farms has decreased, but the average farm size has increased by more than two-fold. (This long-term trend recently reversed for the first time since 1931 because of the increasing number of small specialty farms.) The area of the agricultural land base has also changed, increasing by 33 percent from 15.8 million hectares to 21.0 million hectares. This land base represents about one third of the area of the province.

Technological advances have been a major factor influencing these trends. Mechanized farming and modern methods, such as the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, have enabled fewer people to do more work and produce more than was previously possible. Economic factors have favoured large-scale operations. Of the total farmland in 1996, approximately 52 percent was cultivated, and 41 percent was pasture. The remainder had various uses (farmyards, wetlands, woodlots, etc).

Primary agriculture is Alberta's largest renewable resource-based industry. Alberta accounts for 25 percent of annual Canadian agricultural production with only nine percent of Canada's population. In 1996, primary agriculture generated a record $6.4 billion in farm cash receipts, representing 22.6 percent of Canada's primary agricultural output. Typically, annual sales of products are about evenly balanced between crops and livestock. Agricultural processing, including food and beverage processing industries, is Alberta's largest manufacturing sector.

Combined, the agricultural production and processing sectors were the second largest employer in the province in 1996. Employment in the agricultural and agri-food industries averaged 116,200 jobs during 1996. Alberta's agri-food industry contributes roughly five percent of the provincial gross domestic product.

Department of the Environment. State of the Environment Report, Terrestrial Ecosystems.  Edmonton: n.p., 2001. With permission from Alberta Environment.




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