Organic Farming

 
 

Area Under Organic Farming

Share of organic agricultural land out of total agricultural land.
 

Please note:
The data on this page are current as of October 2008.

Key Messages

  • Canada earns a “D” grade and ranks 15th out of 17 peer countries.
  • Organic agricultural land represents 0.9 per cent of Canada’s total agricultural land. The total number of certified organic farms in Canada steadily increased between 1990 and 2004.
  • Hay and field crops, such as wheat, durum, and barley, are Canada’s predominant certified organic commodity.

Putting organic farming in context

Organic agriculture avoids the use of chemical fertilizers, synthetic pesticides, synthetic veterinary drugs, genetically modified organisms, and certain food processing and preservation substances.

How does Canada's area under organic farming compare to that of its peers?

Canada ranks 15th out of 17 peer countries for the share of organic agricultural land in total agricultural land, and earned a disappointing “D” grade for performance in 2006. Of Canada's 68 million hectares of agricultural land, only 604,404 hectares have been classified as organic, representing 0.9 per cent of Canada's total agricultural land.1

Austria and Switzerland, with 13 per cent and 12 per cent organic shares of total agricultural land, respectively, earned “A” grades. Other European countries also outperformed Canada. Italy and Sweden received “B” grades, with 9 per cent and 7 per cent of total farmland designated organic, respectively.

At the other end of the spectrum, the U.S. and Japan were the worst performers. Like Canada, their organic share of total agricultural land is less than 1 per cent.

Does this mean Canada has less land dedicated to organic agriculture?

Actually, no. Although Canada ranks poorly for the share of organic land of total agricultural area, when we measure total organic agricultural land, Canada ranks 6th out of the 17 OECD countries. Canada has just over 600,000 hectares classified as organic. Australia, the leading country for overall organic land, has dedicated more than 12 million hectares of agricultural land to organic farming. Most of Australia's classified organic land is pastoral land used for low-intensity grazing.2 Given its low level of productivity, however, one organic hectare in Australia may not be directly equivalent to one organic hectare in Canada or Europe.

How is organic land managed in Canada?

Canada has a number of organic farms, under various owners and operators. Canada had 3,571 organic farms in 2006, ranking 9th out of 17 countries. Italy has the highest number of organic farms, with 45,115. The average number of certified organic farms for the 17 peer countries is 8,027. Italy, Austria, Germany, France, and the U.S. are the top performers, with more than the average number of organic farms.

What is the state and trend of organic farming in Canada?

Organic farming in Canada is gaining momentum. The total number of certified organic farms in Canada steadily increased over the 1990s and between 2000 and 2004. In 2006, the total reported organic agricultural land increased by 4.4 per cent over one year, to 604,404 hectares.3 The majority of organic producers are in Saskatchewan, Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia. In 2005, 34 per cent of organic farms were in Saskatchewan and 23 per cent were in Quebec.4

But the number of certified organic farms in Canada reported by certifiers has decreased. In 2004, 3,670 organic farms were reported; in 2006 this number dropped to 3,570. The number of organic maple syrup producers in Quebec dropped 27 per cent in 2005, from 424 to 308. The number of certified producers in both Saskatchewan and Alberta declined slightly in 2005,5 partly because some organic farmers in the Prairies gave up farming altogether because of drought and low agricultural commodity prices.

What does organic farming mean to the Canadian consumer?

Canada’s organic food sector is the fastest-growing agricultural sector in Canada, growing by 20 per cent a year. Canada exports most of the organic goods it produces—80 per cent—to Europe, the U.S., and Asia.6 Hay and field crops, such as wheat, durum, and barley, are Canada's predominant certified organic commodity, with 2,462 farms spanning about 230,500 hectares in 2008.7 Wheat is Canada’s most valuable single organic export, valued at $18 million per year.

Despite this growth in organic farming, Canada still imports 90 per cent of organic grocery items and 80 per cent of organic produce sold in the country.8

How does Canada regulate organic farming?

Canada has had strong national organic standards since 1999. There are over 30 organic certification bodies active across Canada. Organic standards, however, have been voluntary, and the standards have varied across individual certification bodies.

As consumer demand for organic products has grown, jurisdictions around the world, including the province of Quebec, have implemented governmentally certified organic standards. Some agencies active in Canada certify producers to be in compliance with one or more of these national standards in order to have access to different markets around the world.

Federal regulations for organic products are scheduled to come into effect in December 2008. Organic products marketed interprovincially or internationally will have to be certified by a certification body accredited by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.9

Footnotes

1 Helga Willer and Minou Yussefi, eds., The World of Organic Agriculture. Statistics and Emerging Trends 2008 (Bonn Germany and Frick Switzerland: International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements and Research Institute of Organic Agriculture, 2008), p. 233.

2 Helga Willer and Minou Yussefi, eds., The World of Organic Agriculture. Statistics and Emerging Trends 2006 (Bonn, Germany, and Frick, Switzerland: International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements and Research Institute of Organic Agriculture, 2006), p. 25.

3 Helga Willer and Minou Yussefi, eds., The World of Organic Agriculture. Statistics and Emerging Trends 2007 (Bonn, Germany, and Frick, Switzerland: International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements and Research Institute of Organic Agriculture, 2007), p. 205.

4 Anne Macey, Certified Organic Production in Canada 2005 (Ottawa: Canadian Organic Growers, August 2006), p. 2.

5 Anne Macey, Certified Organic Production in Canada 2005 (Ottawa: Canadian Organic Growers, August 2006), p. 2.

6 Helga Willer and Minou Yussefi, eds., The World of Organic Agriculture. Statistics and Emerging Trends 2007 (Bonn, Germany, and Frick, Switzerland: International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements and Research Institute of Organic Agriculture, 2007), p. 205.

7 Statistics Canada, Organic: from niche to mainstream, March 28, 2008, [online, cited August 20, 2008].

8 Helga Willer and Minou Yussefi, eds., The World of Organic Agriculture. Statistics and Emerging Trends 2007 (Bonn, Germany, and Frick, Switzerland: International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements and Research Institute of Organic Agriculture, 2007), p. 205.

9 Statistics Canada, Organic: from niche to mainstream, March 28, 2008, [online, cited August 20, 2008].

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