Thursday, May 19, 2011

Signs of Spring on the Farm - Lambs, grass, lilacs and the Census?

The signs of spring on our farm are new lambs, growing grass, blooming lilacs and this year, the Census of Agriculture which arrived in the mail May 3rd. The mandatory census of agriculture occurs every five years, providing the only fully comprehensive picture of all aspects of Canada’s agriculture. Although May is a busy time for farmers, this census is conducted at the same time as the Census of Population, right after the income tax deadline, so that there is a complete picture of the human side of farming, and so that the process will be streamlined and money saved in its administration. The forms used to be taken door to door, but are now mailed out to known farmers. If they are delivered by an agent, it is to a mail box or left at the gate in a plastic bag and not to the doorstep for reasons of biosecurity.

A few years ago staff from Statistics Canada met with several representatives of farm sectors to determine how the census could be improved, and what questions should be dropped, saved and added. Originally they had planned to drop the questions on computer use because they assumed everyone had computers. After receiving input from various farm organizations, Stats Canada decided to add a question as to the availability of high speed internet. Rural high speed internet was also an election issue, since the reduction in support and extension for farmers has government leaning towards having farmers get their information from the internet. Those farmers who only have dial up, or no computer at all, are thought to have a distinct disadvantage.

Another question that is new to this census is a request for the business number of the farm. This is part of a feasibility study to see if financial data can be taken directly from annual tax filings in the future. The financial questions on the agriculture census are currently the most time consuming.

If you farm, and haven’t received a census of agriculture form, contact Statistics Canada so that you can be counted. It is really important to collect accurate information so that we know how many changes have happened since the last census in 2006. The census measures the amount of land used for various crops, the number, species and ages of livestock and poultry, types of farm practices, and financial information. The data are used by statisticians, economists, farm organizations, planners, and researchers to understand our farm economy better. The information is critical to determine payments to provinces for agricultural programs and support, and in tracking historical changes in agriculture in Canada over time.

Besides keeping statistics on our lives and livelihoods, the government also keeps track of weather over time and the data indicate one of the cooler and wetter springs on record. The average temperature for February through April was 30% cooler and the rainfall 30% greater than last year. Even without consulting with Environment Canada, the lilacs were telling us that time to plant would be delayed.

Each spring, right at Mother’s Day, fragrant purple lilac blossoms mark the warm days of spring. Mother’s Day has come and gone, and the purple lilac blooms are still small, tight and developing. The common purple lilac, a European flowering shrub typical of homesteads across Canada, has long been a biological weather instrument subject to control by the accumulation of heat units. The lilac has proven to be such a good phenological indicator species that for years data on lilac life stages were collected by departments of agriculture and horticultural associations around the world. When the lilac is just leafing out, it is time to sow cool season vegetables. When blooming, it is time to plant warm season vegetables. When the blooms are finished, it is time to plant squash and cucumber. The time to start cutting hay? About a month after the lilac starts blooming. So as the blooms are delayed, and the cool rains fall, we work on the agriculture census form and wait for more signs of spring.


1 comment:

  1. I had never heard that about the lilacs! How very interesting. Good thing I planted one!

    Maria Castro