Friday, 12 May 2017

Release of 2016 Census of Agriculture – Relevance to Rural Broadband in Ontario

 Helen Hambly, R2B2 Project Lead
This week, (May 10th) Statistics Canada released data and reports from the 2016 Census of Agriculture.

It’s important to realize that the 2016 Census of Agriculture includes a revised set of questions about farm use of emerging digital devices, including those associated with Precision Agriculture as well as those devices that require wireless and wireline technologies.
In Canada, 25.6% of all operating farms are in Ontario. With 49,000 farms, this number is down from 2011 by 4.5%. This news in Ontario is not all bad. Past census data indicates that the decrease was higher between 2006-2011 (-9.5%). As well, Ontario’s rate of decline is less than the national rate of decline (-5.9%).

Statistics Canada identifies the following trends relevant to initiatives that seek to strengthen regional and rural broadband infrastructure:  

      In Ontario, 13.8% farms reported using automated steering technology in 2015. R2B2 observesPrecision Agriculture (PA) technologies are demanding faster/synchronous wireless and wireline (fibre) systems to use PA effectively.

·         In Ontario, 10.4% farms reported having renewable energy-producing systems in 2015. At the national level, the percentage was 5.3%.  R2B2 observesSolar farming and renewable energy that sells back to the grid have been responsible for farms making “quantum leaps” in terms of their Internet use and access. ‘Smart’ energy use systems are good for farms and the environment.

·         In Ontario, greenhouse vegetables production rose by 29.8% (111.9 million sq. ft.) which is two-thirds of the national figure.  R2B2 observesThe rapid increase in greenhouse vegetable production is likely to drive demand for Internet-enabled technologies in greenhouse operations with opportunities that include efficient use of inputs, time-sensitive decision support and remote management.

·         Farms in Ontario employ 70,470 people. This number has declined 5.8% since 2011. R2B2 observes: Technology use has been recognized as both a cause of and response to changes in labour.

·         The largest proportion of farm operators (55.1%) is 55 years and older. Women make up approximately one-third of Ontario’s farm operators. There was growth observed in the proportion of young farmers which increased from 8.2% (2011) to 9.4% (2016). R2B2 observes: Age is a relevant variable for technology adoption where digital devices are concerned. In a recent study we reported that younger cohorts of farm operators are more likely to be adopters of at least one type of PA.

With the 2016 Census of Agriculture, we note that Statistics Canada has tried to move beyond its earlier focus which was known as “Computers Used for Farm Business” (CANSIM Table 004-0231).  From the new data table (CANSIM Table 004-0243) we note the following:

Technologies Used
Southern Ontario Region
Ontario
Computers/laptops for farm management 
10567
27904
Smartphones/tablets for farm management 
7699
19532
Automated steering (auto-steer)
3304
6851
GPS technology
6571
13851
GIS mapping (e.g., soil mapping)
2852
5436
Greenhouse automation
430
636
Robotic milking
83
337
Automated environmental controls for animal housing
996
3270
Automated animal feeding
990
2914
Other technologies
102
250

Southern Ontario has a substantial share of the above-listed technologies. Nevertheless, there exists an apparent challenge associated with these CoA data. As Statistics Canada points out, there are different interpretations among respondents about what constitutes technology used for farm management. Farm operators may not necessarily distinguish between personal or household use of computers and smartphones, and those devices used for farm operations.  The metrics for assessing emerging digital technology adoption in Canadian agriculture need improvement.  The R2B2 project and partners are inspired by this challenge. R2B2 is ‘digging deeper’ into the adoption of digital technologies in farming, and focusing on issues concerning connectivity across the Southern Ontario Region.

For further information about the 2016 Census of Agriculture see Statistics Canada’s website (and of course, we all need Internet access to make use of this information): http://www.statcan.gc.ca

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