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Rural Decline
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Abandoned elevator Since World War II a number of factors have combined to prompt a decline in the population growth of rural Alberta. While the root cause of the problematic situation is multi-faceted, some of the key and interwoven contributing factors include: 
  • an increased reliance on farm machinery, chemical use and a move toward large scale agribusiness, where larger farms are operated by fewer people;
  • globalization and the advent of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which exposed Canadian farmers to the forces of the global market. 
  • the 1995 cancellation of the Crow Rate, which subsidized railway shipment of grain and resulted in abandoned or demolished rail lines and grain elevators being replaced by fewer, massive terminals; 
  • the emergence of "mega barns" producing hogs and other livestock as farmers chose to sell directly to the corporations who package and market food products rather than tackle the open market.
Historian Jane Ross notes in her article "Rural Revolution: How can Alberta farmers survive and save what they hold dear?":

In 1921, the size of the average farm was 198 acres; by 1996 the number had risen to 608 acres, and this year the average farm size had doubled since then to nearly to 1200 acres! . . . Now, 20 per cent of prairie farms produce 80 per cent of the grain and livestock.1

Despite this, between 1966 and 1996, the population of rural Alberta did grow by over 20 percent. However, only 20 percent of Albertans now live rurally with less than 8 percent of the population involved in agriculture. 

1 Reprinted with the permission of Jane Ross and Legacy (Spring 2002): 18-21.
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