Nice gig that pays $$? Farmer.

And if you’re under 35, there’s barely any competition for the job

Looking for a good gig that pays over 60K? Consider farming.

No, seriously. After a long period of stagnation, net farm incomes are rising. Net operating income for the average Canadian farm was over $65,000 in 2011, up a whopping 35 per cent from an average of roughly $42,000 between 2006 and 2010. Only in 1995, that figure was below $30,000:

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, based on Statistics Canada figures and projections

“The economics of agriculture are coming back,” says Jeff Grubb, a Regina-based lawyer with expertise in agricultural law. “In the 1980s and 90s farm families needed to have some source of off-farm income,” at least in the prairies, recalls Grubb, who is himself the owner of a 700-acre farm. That’s less and less the case today, though, he says–courtesy of steadily climbing commodity prices and ever-larger farms.

OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2011-2020 (http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/user_upload/newsroom/docs/Outlookflyer.pdf)

Growing demand for food from emerging markets has pushed the prices of crops like rice to unprecedented highs in recent years. Of course, the appetites of a rising middle class in places like China are no guarantee that commodity prices will keep going up in a straight line, but there’s reason to be optimistic nonetheless. A trend toward farm consolidation and bigger farms, for one, is another factor that’s making for better operating margins, as farm operators exploit economies of scale, notes Grubb.

Not convinced yet? Perhaps you need an update on what “working the land” looks like these days. If you pictured yourself living among the wheat fields, with your days ruled by a well-worn routine and nothing but dial-up Internet to connect you to the outside world, think again. With the average farm size at 778 acres, running a farm nowadays is as much about management and financial planning as it is about tractors and fertilizers. And in many cases, living on the farms is no longer required, says Grubb. In the prairies, many farm operators now live in urban centres and commute to work, he adds.

Add to this that the sector is in dire need of fresh blood. According to the latest Census of Agriculture, nearly half of all Canadian farmers are 55 and older, notes Grubb, who says he increasingly finds himself urging clients to think about succession planning. Though the number of Canadians farms has been decreasing since 1941 and dropped 10 per cent over the last five years alone, the number of young people entering the sector has been dropping even faster–with the result that folks under 35 made up less than 8.2 per cent of farm operators last year. With youth unemployment in Canada hovering around 14 per cent–nearly twice the national average–that alone should be enough to get some youngsters interested.




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Nice gig that pays $$? Farmer.

  1. Probably all true. EXCEPT that when you look at capital investment, the only decent way to start a farming business is to inherit one.

    • My brother (a farmer/rancher) would always shake his head at the price people in the city pay for a house ($250 to $300 K). He says, “I can buy a place with a house/trailer on it and make a living”. It isn’t so much about “inheriting a farm” as growing up around a farmer so you gain the business smarts and the knowledge it takes to run a farm. You can rent land; you can hire people with machinery to seed your crop and swath it but you need to have good business knowhow and that is hard to obtain unless you have a good mentor.

  2. Exactly – the capital investment is so high, and as such the debt that grips a lot of these farms can be devastating if the variables aren’t friendly (weather, markets, etc).

    Furthermore, it’s worth considering how many hours a farmer is working for that 60 grand. . . .

    • You’re absolutely right with regard to working hours. I grew up on a farm and it seemed like no one from my hometown counted their time when calculating how much profit they were expecting to make.

    • In my experience, at least 60+ hrs/wk over the entire year would probably be average. I can’t think of alot of people willing to put in the time or take the risk. We owe these people a huge debt.

      • 60 hours in winter? I could see above in the summer, but not so much work in winter that the yearly average is 60. I’m no expert and could stand to be proven wrong of course.

        • You are probably thinking of grain farmers. I grew up on a farm/ranch combo and the animals have to be taken care of 7 days a week regardless of the season

          • You are right i was only considering crops.

          • You are right i was only considering crops.

    • The funny thing about the time involved is that when you live on a farm or a ranch, it is a lifestyle. You don’t really think about the time you put in because every minute you invest is for yourself.

  3. There are far easier ways to make 60K a year.

    • Yes but if you love where you live and what you do…how many kids can go out their front door and jump on a horse whenever they feel like it? It is a great place to raise a family.

  4. Two fair questions to ask:

    How much do tariffs/protectionist policies/supply management influence a farmer’s income? Considering that other countries are pressuring Ottawa to reduce these tariffs when pursuing free trade deals, this would be an important question to consider.

    Second, how does the closing of the CWB affect a farmer’s bottom line? This is a recent development, and also worth considering.

    (This is a repost of my earlier comment, since it seems to have disappeared into a Disqus black hole.)

    • tariffs and supply side effect farmers income by 100%, as there would not be a Canadian farming industry if we let in subsidized and dumped third world food from all over the world.

      the elimination of the CWB will give an increase to some grain farmers crops when the world market really needs wheat. some grain farmers may fail regardless. unless the government hands out public money to wheat farmers when world demand is low, it will hurt all Canadian wheat farmers in those years.

      Of course regulation can affect ANY job, so “fair to ask” is relative.

      • “…dumped third world food from all over the world?”
        According to the Canadian government, Canada is the 6th largest producer of wheat behind China #1 and India #2 BUT we make up over 20% of the total world exports. China and India despite producing much more than us, IMPORT our wheat because of their large populations. I am not sure what third world countries have enough food to dump it anywhere. We export pork and beef to Japan. They were reticient about accepting our beef until their’s all were irradiated. How would any third world country have extra food to dump it?
        As for the CWB, remember its demise won’t ever affect ALL Canadian wheat farmers. Eastern Canadian farmers were never forced to belong to it, only the Western ones.

  5. I’m having trouble understanding this: is this a one-person operated family farm? Or is that income split?

    I guess my difficulty is just what kind of farm are we talking about here? I don’t think the article has enough pertinent information — fewer family farms because there’s more big corporate farms, but are they farms? Are the people who run them farmers or business people? Confused.

    • This person is from Regina. I grew up on a farm in Alberta and my family is still farming here. I am not aware of any big corporate farms out west. I have noticed that in Saskatchewan some people do not reside on their farm (there is no house on the property). That just means the perrson resides in the city or a town but commutes to their farm. That still makes them a farmer. In rural Alberta, everyone lives on their farm.

  6. Net Operating Income does not include mortgage payments.
    End of story.

    • A percentage of many of your expenses are tax deductable including your mortgage, telephone, etc. because you are conducting business from your home and your field is used “solely” for business. Also, you get to use “purple” gasoline (almost no tax) for your farm vehicles.
      Further, you get bailouts from the government if bad things happen like weather disasters, big drops in the prices of livestock, etc. which make it difficult for you to stay in business.

  7. Just so long as we keep on restricting supply and screwing over consumers.

    • how are consumers getting screwed?

  8. Excellent article! It is about time someone discussed the reality that farming is a business and like any other business if done right, can turn a profit. It is also a great lifestyle.

  9. You might earn 60K a year but good luck buying one below 1 millions $. An average size dairy farm is more around 2 millions these days…

    Farmers are rich only once they sell their farms!

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