Census of Agriculture

Detailed information for 2016




Every 5 years

Record number:


The Census of Agriculture is conducted to develop a statistical portrait of Canada's farms and its agricultural operators.

Data release - scheduled for May 10, 2017 (first in a series of releases)


Statistics Canada conducts the Census of Agriculture to develop a statistical portrait of Canada's farms and its agricultural operators. The data provide users with a comprehensive picture of the major commodities of the agriculture industry while also supplying information on new or less common crops, livestock, finances and use of technology.

The data collected by the Census of Agriculture are used to calculate estimates and determine the sample frame for the agricultural surveys. The information is also used by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and provincial governments to develop, administer and evaluate agricultural policies, and by universities and agri-businesses for research and planning.

The census takes place every five years as decreed by the Statistics Act. It provides a historical perspective on Canadian agriculture and on trends in the industry over the years.

Clients: Federal government, provincial and territorial governments, municipal governments; libraries; educational institutions; researchers and academics; private industry; business associations and labour organizations; private citizens; public interest groups.


  • Agriculture

Data sources and methodology

Target population

All agricultural operations in Canada that produce any agricultural products with the intention to sell.

Instrument design

User consultations

A series of workshops were held across Canada in 2012 with users such as federal departments and provincial ministries, agricultural associations, academics and agriculture service providers. Users submitted recommendations for the types of questions they would like to see on the 2016 Census questionnaire which were used to develop the content and design of the census questionnaire.

Evaluating the suggestions

Before going any further, the submitted recommendations had to meet certain criteria before being judged suitable for inclusion in the Census of Agriculture:

-­ Is this topic of national interest?
­- Are data worthwhile at more detailed geographic levels than provincial or national?
­- Will farmers easily understand the question?
­- Can the question be answered-that is, do the farm operators have the information to answer the question?
­- Will farm operators be willing to answer it?
­- Will there be a broad demand for the data generated by the question?
­- Can the question be answered by either "Yes," "No," or a quantitative response?

Questionnaire content and development

Although the questionnaire is updated every census to reflect users' changing requirements as identified through the submission process, certain questions appear on every census. These questions-such as those on farm operators, land area, livestock numbers and crop areas-are considered essential by Statistics Canada and other major users of Census of Agriculture data. Repeating basic questions allows the census to measure change over time, while adding new questions and dropping others allows data to be collected that reflect new technologies and structural changes in the agriculture industry. Four new topics, notably the adoption of technologies, direct marketing, succession planning and renewable energy systems were added to the 2016 questionnaire. These topics reflect changes in the industry and strong user demand for this new information. Also, to reduce respondent burden the detailed questions related to farm operating expenses have been replaced with one question asking for total farm operating expenses.

New or changed questions were developed in Head Office in consultation with industry experts and tested a number of times with farm operators across Canada through one-on-one interviews on their farms and in focus groups. Farm operators selected for testing reflected regional diversity-in types of agriculture, production techniques, farm size, language and age. This testing proved that some questions would not perform well on the census, and that the wording of other questions would require fine-tuning. Respondent burden, content-testing results, user priorities and budgets were all taken into consideration in determining the final content of the 2016 Census of Agriculture questionnaire. It was approved by Cabinet in the spring of 2015.

For more information about the 2016 Census of Agriculture consultation process and results, the "Census of Agriculture: Content Consultations" (http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/95-635-x/95-635-x2014001-eng.htm) publication is available from the "Browse by key resources" module of our website under "Publications".


This survey is a census with a cross-sectional design.

The Census of Agriculture is designed to obtain complete and accurate data from all farms in Canada. Data are collected for all units of the target population, therefore no sampling is done.

Data sources

Data collection for this reference period: 2016-04 to 2016-07 (census day: May 10, 2016)

Responding to this survey is mandatory.

Data are collected directly from survey respondents.

The Census of Agriculture is collected with the Census of Population (record number 3901). In 2016 all farm operations will receive an invitation letter to fill out their 2016 Census of Agriculture questionnaire on the internet using a Secure Access Code provided in the letter. If a paper questionnaire is preferred, the respondent may call the Census of Agriculture helpline to obtain the paper questionnaire by mail. Farm operators will either complete and submit an electronic form on the internet or mail back the paper form directly to Statistics Canada in the National Capital Region.

The information on the paper questionnaires is converted to machine-readable form and checked for consistency. The final data are analysed for accuracy and summarized for public release. The reference period for the Census of Agriculture data varies with the variable under consideration. The most common reference periods include the previous calendar year (e.g. value of agricultural products sold) and census day (e.g. number of livestock on the operation).

View the Questionnaire(s) and reporting guide(s) .

Error detection

The data are first subjected to many rigorous quality control and processing edits to identify and resolve problems related to inaccurate, missing or inconsistent data.

Questionnaires with missing or inconsistent data may be followed up with a telephone call from a census employee from Statistics Canada asking a short series of questions to clear up any missing or incomplete answers.


Some records in a Census will be incomplete or inconsistent and will require imputation. Where a follow-up phone call with respondents is unsuccessful in obtaining missing information or resolving data inconsistencies, an automated imputation procedure is used. Where possible, incomplete or inconsistent records receive substitute values derived from other information on the record. In cases of total non-response and for data that cannot be derived from the incomplete record, a process of selecting suitable data from "nearest neighbour" records is used. The system searches for another operation with similar characteristics and within the same geographic area as the questionnaire with the problem. Once a suitable match is made the system duplicates the donor's responses in the recipient questionnaire.

Quality evaluation

The data validation process identifies instances in which data either are not directly comparable to those from previous censuses or are of reduced quality, primarily because of coverage or response errors. After thoroughly investigating each case, notes are developed to identify the variables affected and explain the situation associated with each. The purpose of the Coverage Evaluation Study (CES) is to estimate the coverage of the Census of Agriculture.

Coverage is a problem that affects the quality of estimates of all censuses. For the Census of Agriculture, coverage errors occur when farms are missed, incorrectly included or double counted. The CES measures the level of coverage and is one way to assess the quality of the Census of Agriculture estimates.

Disclosure control

Statistics Canada is prohibited by law from releasing any information it collects which could identify any person, business, or organization, unless consent has been given by the respondent or as permitted by the Statistics Act. Various confidentiality rules are applied to all data that are released or published to prevent the publication or disclosure of any information deemed confidential. If necessary, data are suppressed to prevent direct or residual disclosure of identifiable data.

Revisions and seasonal adjustment

This methodology type does not apply to this survey.

Data accuracy

An integral part of each Census of Agriculture is the implementation of new or enhanced methods, procedures and technologies that improve not only the collection, but also the processing, validation and dissemination of the data. Enhanced methods, procedures and technologies adopted for the 2016 Census of Agriculture include significant updates to the Statistics Canada Business Register in preparation of the Census, mailing invitation letters and/or questionnaires to the entire farm population with a recognized mailing address and an enhanced centralized telephone follow-up operation to resolve non-response as well as inconsistencies within questionnaires returned by respondents. In addition, to help ensure that data from the 2016 Census of Agriculture would be of consistently high quality, improved quality assurance and control procedures were incorporated into each of the collection and data processing stages.

With projects as large and complex as the Censuses of Agriculture and Population, the estimates produced from them are inevitably subject to a certain degree of error. Knowing the types of errors that can occur and how they affect specific variables can help users assess the data's usefulness for their particular applications as well as assess the risks involved in basing conclusions or decisions on them.

Errors can arise at virtually every stage of the census process, from preparing materials, through collecting data, to processing. Moreover, errors may be more predominant in certain areas of the country or vary according to the characteristic being measured. Some errors occur at random, and when individual responses are aggregated for a sufficiently large group they tend to cancel each other out. For errors of this nature, the larger the group, the more accurate the corresponding estimate. For this reason, data users are advised to be cautious when using estimates based on a small number of responses. Some errors, however, might occur more systematically and result in "biased" estimates. Because the bias from such errors is persistent no matter how large the group for which responses are aggregated, and because bias is particularly difficult to measure, systematic errors are a more serious problem for most data users than random errors.


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