$13 Million — StatsCan's Reason for Running the Census of Ag During Seeding

It’s not like there aren’t enough things for farmers to do at this time of year, but anybody who farms in Canada can add answering questions for the Census of Agriculture to their must-do list for the month of May.

Forms for Statistics Canada’s mandatory farm survey have started arriving in a little over 200,000 mailboxes, although farmers can also share their responses online. Under the Statistics Act, all farm operators are required to participate.

While the timing is poor, with planting in full swing and calving still underway, the federal agency runs the census in May to piggyback on the larger census of all Canadians, explains Greg Peterson, StatsCan’s director general responsible for the Census of Agriculture.

“We do this for financial reasons, for dollars and cents. If we wanted to run a Census of Agriculture by ourselves, without tagging ourselves to the Census of Population, we figure it would cost us an additional $13 million,” Peterson says, in our conversation below. The entire 2016 Census of Agriculture, over its six-year cycle, is projected to cost around $47 million.

“What we try to do with the Census of Agriculture is make use of the infrastructure that exists from the Census of Population to try to run as efficient a census as possible. Their reference period is May, so we go out in May as well.”

The timing for the Census of Population is chosen to maximize the number of Canadians who are at home — not down south for winter, nor on summer holidays from school, notes the federal agency.

While they’ve added some new questions about succession planning and farm technology use, he says they’ve also streamlined the survey, aiming to reduce the amount of time it takes a farmer to complete.

“We realize our activities do place a burden on our respondents,” he says, noting they’ve removed questions about detailed financial expenditures, manure use and other specific topics. “That by itself reduces the size of this year’s questionnaire by about 30 percent compared to the previous census.”

Filling it out online can also save you time, he says, because the site automatically adds totals and leaves out questions deemed not applicable.

The information collected in the survey is used by all levels of government and farm organizations to understand what’s happening on farms and in developing farm policy and communications, notes Peterson. The census data is also used as core information for other StatsCan reports that are based on samples of the farm populations, he says.

“All of this is only possible if we have a good benchmark to base our data on. The census is that benchmark,” he says.

The first results from the Census of Agriculture are scheduled to be released on May 10, 2017.

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