History of Agriculture in British Columbia
The inhabitants of any area depend on the products provided by the land to survive.
Agriculture in British Columbia today came with the influx of Europeans who came in search
of furs and later gold. However, the utilization of the land as a source of food and
domestic materials began much earlier with the hunting, gathering and processing of
natural products by the aboriginal people.
The dramatic development of the agricultural industry is reflected in statistics
recorded over the years. In 1891, the Canadian census placed the total population of the
province at 98,173. Of this, 22% (22,000 approx) were located on 6,500 farms, mostly
located on Vancouver Island, the lower mainland and in the Okanagan and Kootenay valleys.
One hundred years later, the 1991 census shows the past trend towards urbanization with
only 1.5% (61,135) out of a total population of 3,282,060 living on farms. The total
number of farms had increased to 19,225.
The farm of the 1890's was more closely linked to the farm of two centuries ago, than
of today. There were no cars, few telephones and little electricity. Most of the work now
done by gasoline and diesel powered equipment was done by the 17,000 horses in use on
farms in 1894. Tractors first appeared in the early 20th century and by 1922 numbered 332.
Today there are well over 33,000. As late as 1933, there were only 20 combines - today
there are over 1700 in the province. To produce 1 acre (20 bushels) of wheat in 1890 with
a gang plow, a seeder, a harrow, a binder, a thresher, and wagons and horses, took 8 to 10
man hours of labour. It has been said that to produce today's crops without fuel and
electricity and with turn of the century technology would require 27 million more farm
workers and 61 million more horses and mules.
Starting up a small, unspecialized farm in 1912 required the following outlay:
|Barns and Outbuildings
|Wagons and Implements
|Pigs and Chickens
|Fruit Trees and Seeds
|Fencing and Gates
This farmer could then count on the following returns, contrasted here with today's returns:
|PRODUCTION: (bushels per acre)
||1994 (as of January)
||$ .77 (bushel)
||$ .70 (bushel)
When the farmer of 1912 looked at egg production, he or she would find an
investment of $2.75 per hen per week on feed would yield an average of 3-4 eggs.
These could then be sold wholesale for 30 cents a dozen.
As for livestock, the hogs could be sold for 6-9 cents per pound (live weight) and six
week old pigs at $3 each. Beef brought 7-10 cents per pound by carcass.
Orchard products fetched $26 per ton for apples and $30 for pears.
Commercialization did not progress significantly until after the combined colonies of
Vancouver Island and British Columbia joined Confederation in 1871. Domestic production of
agricultural products did not overtake imports until 1911. Imported agricultural products
from June 1893 - June 1894 totalled $2,422,374 and included imports from other countries
AND other provinces. In 1992, that figure is $1,646,095 million! Over the same period
international exports totalled $82,049. British Columbia now exports $1,247,722 million of
Today, the agriculture and food industry is a major contributor to the British Columbia
economy. It generates over $1.5 billion at the farm gate, and over $11 billion in food
retail sales. There are about 200,000 people employed directly or indirectly in
agri-food industry. It truly has come a long way since the early days of recorded
agriculture last century.