Nova Scotia's hobby farms are thriving

Cash crops and an emerging wine industry are driving an agricultural boom in the province


Farming continues to experience a decline across Canada, but one province is bucking the trend. Driven by cash crops and an emerging wine industry, Nova Scotia is enjoying an agricultural boom, according to a recent Statistics Canada report. The Atlantic province posted a 2.9 per cent jump in the number of farms since 2006, for a total of 3,905. By contrast, the number of farms across Canada has decreased by 10.3 per cent. And Nova Scotia is not only home to more farms: overall agricultural profits have also increased over the past five years, by nine per cent, to $595 million.

What’s driving the boom? There’s been an increase in the number of smaller farms (those that earn under $10,000). “That’s people who want to try the farming lifestyle, wanting to start small,” says Henry Vissers, executive director of the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture. Vissers says the appeal of a farming lifestyle, coupled with a growing interest in farmers’ markets and consumers wanting to buy local, is pushing this boom.

Another big driver is the wine industry. Land dedicated to grape growing has increased by 41 per cent from 2006. Nova Scotia could soon be recognized as Canada’s third wine region after Ontario and British Columbia—the province’s coasts are now dotted with 16 large wineries and at least 60 independent grape growers. Carl Sparkes, president of Jost Vineyards, says the industry is growing at a furious pace. “I even think the census numbers are low. This year we’ve seen a lot of activity,” he says.

Along with the rise of hobby and specialty farms, another dramatic change is the decline of livestock farming. Hog farming is down by 80 per cent, the largest drop in Canada, driven by a combination of high prices for grain feed, stiff competition from Quebec and Manitoba, and the closing of two Maple Leaf processing plants in 2010. Beef production is also down by almost a third.

Meanwhile, the acreage dedicated to corn crops in the province has increased by 77 per cent in five years, and soy acreage has tripled. The price of cash crops has seen an upsurge in recent years, and Nova Scotia farmers have taken notice.

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