September 12, 2022

Weekly EconMinute—Agricultural land

In this week’s EconMinute, we’re talking about agricultural land.

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After hundreds of years of agricultural land expansion, the world has passed ‘peak agricultural land.’ The amount of land used to grow crops and graze livestock reached a high in 2000 and has been falling since.

This decline is the result of less land being used as pasture. Global cropland is rising, but not by enough to offset that loss.

Even so, global food production—for both crops and livestock—has continued to increase because it has become more land-efficient. For one, meat production has shifted towards pork and chicken, which are not pasture-fed livestock. And second, beef production has shifted away from pastures, and cattle are increasingly fed with crops. Indeed, about half of the world’s cropland is dedicated to producing animal feed.

Has ‘peak agricultural land’ been reached in Canada? In Alberta? Here’s what the data show:

  • Canada reached ‘peak agricultural land’ in 1966 at 70.5 million hectares and declined to 65.9 million hectares during the 1980s farm crisis. The sector recovered 2 million hectares between 1986 and 2006 before steadily declining again. Nationally, there are now 62.2 million hectares of farmland—similar to 100 years ago.
  • Alberta reached ‘peak agricultural land’ in 2006 at 21.1 million hectares. The amount of agricultural land has since moderately declined to 19.9 million hectares.
  • This decline is attributed to reductions in pastureland—both provincially and nationally. However, cropland area has continued to increase.
  • Both provincially and nationally, reductions in pastureland have corresponded to fewer cattle and a sharp increase in poultry numbers.

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