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Weighing the data on direct marketing in Ontario

by Jim Algie

Among all Canadian provinces, Ontario had the largest number of farms reporting direct marketing, the 2016 census of agriculture said.

A total of 7,474 Ontario farms sold directly to consumers through such methods as farm gate stands, farmers markets and you-pick enterprises, Statistics Canada’s June 2017 “Growing Opportunity Through Innovation in Agriculture” article said.

That figure accounts for 30.5 per cent of the 24,510 farms reporting such practices nationally during the first census that tracked direct marketing. Ontario’s total was by far the largest at the provincial level. Proportionally, however, direct marketing was more prevalent in provinces with a higher frequency of small farms, namely Newfoundland and Labrador, British Columbia, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

Operators of small-scale farms were more likely to sell directly to consumers. “In Canada, 25.2 per cent of farms with sales less than $10,000 reported direct marketing, compared with 5.6 per cent of farms with $1 million or more in sales,” Statistics Canada said.

Although the census numbers on direct marketing were “extremely positive,” Cathy Bartolic, executive director of the Ontario Farm Fresh Marketing Association, said they need some refinement.

“It’s hard to read too much into (the 2016 census results) because the questions were very general,” she said. “We’re hoping in the next census to fine tune that a little bit so we can get a better handle on those numbers.”

Overall, 96.1 per cent of farms selling directly to consumers sold unprocessed products such as fruits and eggs while 14.4 per cent sold value-added products such as wine and cheese, Statistics Canada said.

Among farm types, beef cattle farms reported the highest proportion of farms with direct marketing at 12.7 per cent but those represented only 8.7 per cent of all beef operations.

Proportionally, horticulture farms were most likely to report direct marketing, the report said. Among them, fruit and vegetable combination farms reported direct marketing most often (79.8 per cent).

Average annual sales for direct marketing fruit and vegetable combination farms was $83,683 compared with $246,011 for such farms without direct-marketing revenue.

strawberries for sale
    MarkHatfield/iStock/Getty Images Plus photo

Although the Statistics Canada article did not include total revenue estimates, a 2016 survey by the Ontario Farm Fresh Marketing Association of 112 members estimated a total of 1,680 direct marketing farms in the province with gross sales of about $630 million.

In the United States, the census first included questions about farmers’ direct marketing practices in 2015. Overall, 167,009 farms engaged in direct marketing with sales worth more than US$8.7 billion, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service estimated.

By far, California was the top state for direct sales with 14,315 farms and total sales worth $2.9 billion. Michigan placed second in the total sales (in millions) of direct-marketing farms with 459, while New York placed third with 441. BF

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