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Canada, mechanisation for a changing agriculture

The mitigation of the harsh Canadian climate, due to rising temperatures, is expected to increase the size of the cultivable area and encourage greater crop diversification. The agro-mechanical sector, which today has 600 thousand tractors and 120,000 combine harvesters, is called upon to meet the new production needs

by Giovanni M. Losavio
January - February 2023 | Back


Canada's agricultural geography is destined to experience a period of great transformation in the coming years, facilitated by climate change. At present, arable land - just over 62 million hectares - occupies just 7% of the country's surface area and is mainly concentrated in the western regions. Characterised by a high level of fertility, the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta account for 83% of Canada's agricultural land. These three districts, where about half of the total number of farms operate, produce almost all of the canola, wheat and barley grown throughout Canada. In the Atlantic provinces, which still have a smaller share of the North American state's primary sector, potato and fruit cultivation prevail. Fruit growing (apples, blueberries and grapes above all) and horticulture, points out a study on the Canadian agri-business sector carried out by the ICE Agency on behalf of FederUnacoma, are mainly practised in the southern territories of Quebec and Ontario, as well as in British Columbia (especially green peas, carrots and beans). Livestock and dairy products, on the other hand, are widespread in almost the entire central belt of the state.

Climate warming: opportunities and challenges. For a country that stretches predominantly along the cold temperate and polar belts, climate is a conditioning factor for primary farming, since it affects not only the productivity and yields of land, but also the type of crops that can be grown. In this perspective, global warming is creating the conditions for a reconfiguration of the agricultural system. According to the ICE Agency's report, the increase in temperatures, in addition to gaining arable land (taken from the grasp of ice), should lead to a prolongation of the vegetative period of some plants and increase the yield of the related crops. A milder climate would also favour the spread of some crops, such as maize, soya, wheat, and rape on territories previously considered 'off limits' (especially in the northern regions of the country) and allow the introduction of new ones. In this perspective, 'global warming' can therefore improve the potential of the Canadian agricultural sector, however - meteorologists warn - it seems destined to produce the same criticalities that already afflict the more temperate areas of the planet and that mainly concern the availability of water. In the not too distant future, Canada too could be forced to reckon with a reduction in precipitation (snow and rain) which, combined with the melting of the ice, could put pressure on its water resources and complicate the supply for the primary sector. Agricultural mechanics cannot fail to take this new reality into account.

Mechanisation, the primacy of imports. In 2021 - reads the ICE Agency report - the Canadian machinery fleet consisted of just under 660 thousand tractors, an average of four per farm. The largest share of machines, 80% of the total, is still in the power range up to 149 horsepower. However, the last six years have seen a significant increase in vehicles with more than 149 horsepower. Models with more robust displacements have risen from 105 thousand in 2016 to130 thousand, to account for 20% of the fleet. Overall, including the tillage technology and irrigation systems segment, the Canadian agricultural machinery sector - which also includes 121,000 combine harvesters and 171,000 balers, mowers and conditioners - is worth € 45 billion. The domestic demand for agricultural machinery is mainly met through the import channel, especially with regard to the supply of tractors, combine harvesters and diesel engines. Developments in farm incomes and the appreciation or depreciation of the Canadian dollar against the US dollar, the report points out, are the two key variables that influence trends in agricultural machinery imports in the short to medium term. The main suppliers are the United States, Germany and Japan (75% of total imports in the sector), followed by China and especially Italy, which over the years has seen an increase in the value of trade with the North American country. Indeed, according to ISTAT data reprocessed by FederUnacoma, between 2016 and 2021 Italian exports of agricultural technology rose from just over 61 to about 77 million euros, with a peak of over 82 million in 2020. The increase also continued in the first 10 months of 2022, which saw our exports of agricultural tractors and equipment exceed 75 million euro (+24.5% compared to the same period last year). It therefore seems likely that the final balance for 2022 could, if not improve, at least come close to the highs reached in the year of the pandemic. Exports of machinery made in Italy are strongly polarised on diesel propulsion systems, medium-power tractors (from 50 to 190 horsepower) and combine harvesters.

Canada, the evolution of agricultural mechanisation needs. In the short and medium term, the trend in demand for agricultural machinery in Canada is expected to be conditioned not only by elements of a cyclical nature - the propensity of companies to invest in technologies for agriculture is linked to the trend in agricultural income, crop yields, the exchange rate between the Canadian and US dollars, as well as possible inflationary pressures on the raw material markets - but also, and above all, by structural factors, related to the evolution of the Canadian primary sector. In this perspective, as the ICE Agency points out, the North American country's agriculture is faced with a chronic shortage of specialised labour, which contributes to raising costs and introducing distorting elements into the production system. Investment in agricultural machinery can therefore make up for this shortage by improving and streamlining processes. This need seems destined to become even more pressing in the coming years, when the progressive softening of the Canadian climate will favour the spread of new types of crops and increase cultivable areas. The agricultural mechanics sector will therefore be called upon to meet the production needs of an increasingly specialised agriculture, more and more attentive to the optimisation of resources and respect for the environment, but less and less labour intensive.


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