Overview of Canada's agriculture and agri-food sector

The agriculture and agri-food sector is a major contributor to the Canadian economy. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada is mandated to support primary agriculture (farmers) and food and beverage processing, but the sector reaches into the broader agri-food system, which influences other sectors across the food supply-chain.

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The agri-food system

Canada's food system is resilient and innovative, sustains our environment and supports our economy. In 2020, the whole agriculture and agri-food system:

  • employed 2.1 million people
  • provided 1 in 9 jobs in Canada
  • generated $139.3 billion (around 7.4%) of Canada's gross domestic product (GDP)

The system represents an integrated supply chain

Primary agriculture is defined as work that is performed within the boundaries of a farm, nursery or greenhouse

  • GDP: $39.8 billion (2.1%)
  • Jobs: 269,300

Food and beverage processors transform raw food materials or substances into new products which may be finished, so that they are ready to be used or consumed, or semi-finished, so that they become raw material to be used in further manufacturing.

  • GDP: $32.4 billion (1.7%)
  • Jobs: 288,800

Food retailers and wholesalers

  • GDP: $32.9 billion (1.8%)
  • Jobs: 637,200

Foodservice providers, as well as food retailers and wholesalers, are the link between food production and consumers

  • GDP: $21.1 billion (1.1%)
  • Jobs: 809,100

In 2020, the primary agriculture and food and beverage processing sectors:

  • employed 558,100 people
  • accounted for 3.8% of Canada's GDP
  • provided 1 in 32 jobs in Canada

Primary agriculture

Primary agriculture is defined as work that is performed within the boundaries of a farm, nursery or greenhouse. Canadian primary agriculture is an economic driver highly diversified across the country:

  • 193,492 farms
  • farms cover 68.9 million hectares or 6.9% of Canada's land area
  • concentrated across the Prairies, Quebec and Southern Ontario
  • average farm size doubled over the last 50 years due to increased consolidation and technological advances

Farm market receipts

Farm market receipts represent the farmer's revenues from the sale of agricultural commodities. Farm market receipts are diversified across commodities, led by grains and oilseeds, red meat and dairy. In 2020:

  • a record high $68.7 billion
  • 4.5% average annual growth – grain and oilseed receipts leading the way
  • largest 10% of farms generate two thirds of all revenues

Canadian agriculture is evolving over time in response to challenges, opportunities and market developments. The adoption of innovation contributes to increases in output and productivity.

Sector commodity breakdown

Crop production

  • GDP: $34.4 billion
  • Jobs: 124,000
Principal field crops
  • Receipts: $28.5 billion
  • Number of reporting farms: 63,628Endnote 1
  • Export: $24.1 billion
  • Top export markets:
    • China: 18%
    • Japan: 9.9%
    • United States: 9.5%
  • Key stakeholders:
    • Canada Grain Council
    • Cereals Canada
    • Grain Growers of Canada
Horticulture
  • Receipts: $6.9 billion
  • Number of reporting farms: 19,542Endnote 1
  • Export: $6.5 billion
  • Top export markets:
    • United States: 86%
    • Japan: 2%
    • Germany: 2%
  • Key stakeholders:
    • Canadian Horticultural Council
    • Canadian Produce Marketing Association
    • Canadian Ornamental Horticulture Alliance

Animal production

  • GDP: $5.4 billion
  • Jobs: 133,500
Animal production details
  • Receipts: $26.3 billion
  • Number of reporting farms: 77,594Endnote 1
  • Export: $11.6 billion
  • Top export markets:
    • United States: 46%
    • Japan: 19.7%
    • China: 19.4%
  • Key stakeholders:
    • Supply-managed farmers associations (chicken, turkey, egg, broiler hatching egg, dairy)
    • Canadian Pork Council
    • Canadian Cattlemen's Association

Food and beverage

  • GDP: $32.4 billion
  • Jobs: 288,800
Processing
  • Sales: $122.1 billion
  • Establishments with employees: 8,000
  • Export: $40.8 billion
  • Top export markets:
    • United States: 70%
    • Japan: 11%
    • China: 6%
  • Key stakeholders:
    • Dairy Processors Association of Canada
    • Canadian Poultry and Egg Processors Council
    • Food and Beverage Canada

Top 3 crop and livestock commodities by average 2016-2020 farm cash receipts

  • British Columbia
    • Dairy: $646 million
    • Vegetables: $593 million
    • Floriculture, nursery and sod: $488 million
  • Alberta
    • Cattle and calves: $4.9 billion
    • Canola: $2.7 billion
    • Wheat: $2.1 billion
  • Saskatchewan
    • Canola: $5.3 billion
    • Wheat: $3.2 billion
    • Cattle and calves: $1.4 billion
  • Manitoba
    • Canola: $1.4 billion
    • Wheat: $1.1 billion
    • Hogs: $1 billion
  • Ontario
    • Dairy: $2.1 billion
    • Vegetables: $1.9 billion
    • Soybeans: $1.7 billion
  • Quebec
    • Dairy: $2.4 billion
    • Hogs: $1.3 billion
    • Poultry: $781 million
  • New Brunswick
    • Potatoes: $157 million
    • Dairy: $112 million
    • Floriculture, nursery and sod: $47 million
  • Newfoundland and Labrador
    • Dairy: $47 million
    • Eggs: $18 million
    • Floriculture, nursery and sod: $9 million
  • Prince Edward Island
    • Potatoes: $242 million
    • Dairy: $87 million
    • Cattle and calves: $32 million
  • Nova Scotia
    • Dairy: $144 million
    • Fruit: $60 million
    • Vegetables: $43 million

Food and beverage processing

Food and beverage processors transform raw food materials or substances into new products, which may be finished, so that they are ready to be used or consumed, or semi-finished, so that they become raw material to be used in further manufacturing.

The food and beverage processing sector is the largest manufacturing sector in Canada in terms of both GDP and employment:

  • 18% of manufacturing GDP
  • 17.3% of manufacturing jobs

Food and beverage processing sales totaled $122.1 billion in 2020. There are facilities across the country, but most are in Ontario and Quebec.

Main industries:

  • Meat product manufacturing (25.2%) – $30,789,518
  • Dairy product manufacturing (13%) – $15,900,627
  • Beverage manufacturing (10.7%) – $13,029,916
  • Bakeries and tortilla processing (10.2$) – $12,433,606

International trade and domestic market

The success of the Canadian agriculture sector depends heavily on our ability to export to other countries and Canada is one of the world's largest food exporters. In 2020, Canada exported nearly $74 billion in agriculture and food products (including raw agricultural materials, fish and seafood, and processed foods). Canada is the fifth-largest exporter of agri-food and seafood in the world, exporting to over 200 countries in 2020Endnote 2.

The United States is Canada's top trading partner, accounting for more than half of all our agri-food exports and more than half our imports. China has been Canada's second leading agri-food and seafood export market since 2012 – our exports have increased by 72% since. Canadian exporters have recently diversified exports, increasing sales to Asia and Europe.

The domestic market is critical for the performance of the sector. Canadians spent $243.4 billon on food, beverage, tobacco and cannabis products in 2019, representing the second-largest household expenditure category after shelter.

Sustainable economic growth

Canada has some key advantages that can help make us a leader in food production and processing:

  • abundant land and water resources
  • access to international markets
  • strong research and development capacity
  • strong global reputation as a trusted supplier of safe, top-quality food
  • strong stewards of the land

Agriculture and agri-food is one of the sectors with the highest economic growth potential in Canada. Canada's key advantages can make us a leader in sustainable food production and processing. Demand is growing for the kinds of food that Canadian farmers and processors can deliver. Canada's reputation for environmental stewardship can lead to increased demand and price for our products.

Taking advantage of key opportunities will ensure the sector is competitive, sustainable, resilient, and prosperous well into the future.

Updated: November 1, 2021