Farm clans earn most in other fields

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Off-farm jobs account for more than three-quarters of the income farm families earn, a new Statistics Canada analysis shows.

That extra income was largely responsible for an increase in total farm income across the country in 2013, the report says.

But the numbers don’t mean farming is a part-time job for most people in the business, said Don McCabe, a Lambton County farmer who is head of the Ontario Federation of ­Agriculture.

Rather, it’s part of a growing trend in which families choose, or are forced by economic circumstance, to pick up work in addition to full-time farming.

“Just because you pick up a trucking job, it doesn’t mean that when you get home there isn’t another job to be done.”

The new summary, based on income-tax returns, shows that farm-family income rose 6.2 per cent between 2011 and 2013.

But it notes that’s mostly because their off-farm income rose by 7.7 per cent during the same period.

For a farm family that earned the Canadian average of $117,000, only a little more than $27,000 of that came from the family farm, the Statistics Canada analysis says.

There are several reasons to explain the numbers, he said.

  • Some farmers are building their operations and there’s not yet enough revenue to cover expenses.
  • The dynamics of a family means that one spouse farms full-time while the other has a job in a nearby community and young-adult children living at home may have part-time jobs in both worlds.
  • Some farmers choose to farm less and work more off the farm, sometimes in farm-related industries.

Farm families that specialized in potato farming and in greenhouse, nursery and floriculture production reported the largest gains in average total income, with increases ranging from 14 to 20 per cent.

Families specializing in grains and oilseeds — corn and soybeans, for example — reported the highest average incomes in the sector, with average earnings of $136,959.

And while farmers’ income is rising, the cost of doing business has also escalated, with increasing capital and operating expenses, McCabe said.

“At the end of the day, the reality is that the farming industry has grown tremendously in certain ways (and) the margins are growing smaller,” McCabe said.

The average Canadian household income in 2013 was $76,000.

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Total average farm family income (includes amount of off-farm income):

2009: $100,053 ($77,370)

2011: $110,562 ($83,609)

2013: $117,388 ($90,077)

Average total income of farm families increased in every province between 2011 and 2013, with British Columbia showing the largest growth (11.9 per cent) and with Alberta’s farm families showing highest average total income ($143,041). Ontario farm family income was slightly below the national average, at $116,136.