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5. From Way of Life to Business, 1975 – 2006

Sky High Capital and Input Costs

The innovations in agricultural technology allowed a single farmer to farm far more land and employ far fewer people to do so.  Farmers with money and larger operations expanded, buying up surrounding land. The size of the average farm has increased dramatically in the last century while the number of independent farmers has drastically decreased. 

Rural depopulation is a long-term concern.  The dream of homesteaders every quarter-mile with large agrarian families gave way before modern technology, job mobility and the effects of world and national events, such as war and economic depression.   It has been happening a long time. In 1936, the year in which the number of farms and farm population in the province peaked, there were 142,391 farms. 70 percent of the province’s 930,000 people lived in rural Saskatchewan. People moved off the land with such a rate that in 1955, a Royal Commission on Agriculture and Rural Life tackled the problem. There have been massive exoduses from the land at various times, but now the rate of depopulation has slowed down. 

“It's easy to forget about agriculture when you live in the city… Farmers are more often finding themselves in this catch-22 situation. Farming in Saskatchewan can cost a lot of money: there is seed, fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides to buy, plus all the costs of maintaining a variety of equipment from tractors to irrigation systems. This year, the average cost to farm an acre of wheat was $100. And while these costs keep on going up, the price of grain remains consistently low. The average return on an acre of wheat is currently around $60… Many farmers in Saskatchewan are facing a huge debt, rising costs, and eventual bankruptcy. The average age of farmers in Canada is now 58 and rising because they cannot afford to retire. That is why many are looking for $80/acre so that they can pay off their debt and sell their farm.” Steve Cameron, “Farm Crisis: Repercussions for all of Saskatchewan” of The Carillon (Student Newspaper, University of Regina) (Other website…read more)"

Year Farm Population
(% of total)
Rural Population
(% of total)
Number of Farms
1936 573,894 (62) 651,274 (70) 142,391
1946 434,019 (52) 515,928 (62) 125,612
1956 362,231 (41) 558,662 (63) 103,391
1966 281,089 (29) 487,017 (51) 85,686
1976 202,710 (22) 409,990 (45) 70,958
1986 168,505 (17) 389,415 (39) 63,431
1991 159,725 (16) 365,531 (37) 60,840
1996 145,560 (15) 363,059 (37) 56,979

Statistics Canada. Censuses of Population and Agriculture, selected years. <>

Herbicides, pesticides and the concern for GMOs (genetically modified organisms)  are but a few of the issues facing farmers.  Many persons who live on farms work off the farm in order to make a living, while prices have not risen to compensate for high fuel and input costs.

Canada Wheat Board Payments for No. 1 Canada Western Red Spring Wheat, 1994-94 to 2003-04, dollars per tonne

Initial Payment Adjustment Payment Interim Payment Final Payment* Final Realized Price*
1994-95 125.00 67.00 10.00 8.38 210.38
1995-96 175.00 86.00 - 10.75 271.75
1996-97 200.00 10.00 - 14.88 224.88
1997-98 147.00 42.00 8.00 14.68 211.68
1998-99 151.00 39.00 9.00 8.54 207.54
1999 – 2000 144.30 38.00 5.00 5.13 192.43
2000-01 149.60 41.70 7.00 4.28 202.58
2001-02 169.20 29.10 8.00 10.72 217.02
2002-03 155.20 95.00 - - 250.20

*Final payment and final realized price after deduction of costs
Source: Canadian Wheat Board

Wild New Ideas for the Ag Industry

There has been an explosion in new ideas to reach new markets, from growing potatoes to turn out commercial potato salad, to mushroom farming, hemp and canary seed, and producing honey. A walk through a “Made in Saskatchewan” store will let you know what farmers are doing. Some of it is pretty labour intensive, getting away from big expensive machines to producing things that enhance a healthier lifestyle and are marketable to urban people and tourists.

Saskatchewan has more than 1,000 organic producers (as of 2006), and there are 30 organic processors. Feeling good about your product is important. Bison are making a come-back on the prairies. Yes, King Wheat is still in our veins, but health concerns and economic realities have brought us into an new era. This will affect farm machinery use (and sales) as the big get bigger and the rest diversify.