Agriculture in Our Region
Agriculture in Waterloo Region goes back over 200 years when Abraham Erb, a young Pennsylvania Mennonite, arrived in the area in 1806. He had bought title to nearly 4,000 acres (1600 hectares) of land in the newly surveyed German Company Tract, a strip of land along the Grand River. He built a large dam to power both his gristmill and sawmill in what is today uptown Waterloo. Other Mennonite families seeking a simple life soon followed, making the arduous ten week/600km trek in their Conestoga wagons.
By 1834, the German Company lands boasted a population of 2800, of which some 2000 were Pennsylvania Mennonite farmers. Waterloo Township claimed to have some of the best cleared agricultural land in the province with 17,000 acres (6800 hectares) under cultivation. By now, the Mennonite tide of migration had slowed down but a new wave of German immigrants seeking religious freedom began to arrive. Their presence in the township would give rise to breweries and a new crop, barley. However, wheat, vegetables, and animal production continued to form the basis of 19th century agriculture in this area.
Even today, Waterloo Region boasts one of the most economically productive land bases in the province. Each of the individual municipalities/townships in the region exceeds the provincial average in terms of total farm receipts per farm and per acre. In 2000, Waterloo Region reported an average of $1,681 in farm receipts per acre of farmland, making if the second highest producing region on a per acre basis in Ontario (exceeded only by the Niagara fruit belt). Due to our fertile soil and more intense use of the land, the net revenue per farm in 2000 was $39,000, almost twice the Ontario average of $21,534.
Farms in Waterloo Region tend to be smaller than the provincial average. In 2001, the average farm size in Waterloo Region was 156 acres, compared to the provincial average of 226 acres. The high productivity of these smaller farms is largely due to the high concentration of livestock farms in the Region, which tend to be smaller than crop production farms.
Census data from 2006 indicates that there were 1,444 farms in Waterloo Region, the same number as in the 2001 census but down from 1,590 in 1996. With 282 farms, beef producers are the most numerous in Waterloo Region, followed closely by 263 farms reporting dairy as their primary focus. A farm is considered to be a beef farm if 51% or more of its potential sales come from cattle or calves. Together, dairy and beef farms account for 38% of all farms in Waterloo Region.
Animal production is important to Waterloo Region, with another 523 farms reporting their main industry to be hogs, pigs, poultry (and eggs), goats, sheep and other animals. Altogether, animal farms make up 74% of all farms in Waterloo Region. Chickens (2.5 million) and hogs (140,000) top the list for population numbers when it comes to farm animals.
The remaining farms produce field crops, vegetables, fruit, and specialty products. Major fruit crops are apples and strawberries, while sweet corn and green peas top the list of significant vegetable crops in this region. According to Statistics Canada, production of total vegetables (excluding greenhouse vegetables) increased by 129.1 % in Waterloo Region between 2001 and 2006 while the provincial and national data indicated decreases for these crops during the same time period: - 8.6 % in Ontario and - 6.5 % in Canada. While not a significant contributor to the provincial total, Waterloo Region’s greenhouse industry continues to grow, accounting for 62,000 square meters of food and nursery stock under cultivation in 2006.
Grain corn, soybeans, and winter wheat are also important cash crops for farmers in Waterloo Region.