Crops are plants grown for human or animal consumption and can be classified in several ways. By growth habit they are annual, biennial, or perennial, depending on whether they complete their life cycle in one or two years, or persist over two years. The term "winter annuals", is used for crops that are planted and germinate in fall, stay in a dormant state during winter, renew growth in the spring and are ready for harvest in July or August. A more useful classification of crops based on the general trade rule divides them into cereal crops, forages, oilseeds, orchard crops, berries, and vegetables.
Cereal crops are members of the grass family grown for their edible starchy seeds, the main ones produced in Canada being wheat, barley, oats, rye, and corn. These crops are divided into spring-sown types that complete their life cycle in one growing season, and fall sown plants that need an overwintering period. Among the fall sown varieties the most hardy is winter rye, followed by barley and wheat. About 97% of the wheat, 90% of the barley and 81% of the oats produced by Canada are grown in the Prairie Provinces. Saskatchewan leads in the production of spring wheat, Alberta in barley and oats. Significant quantities of oats and barley are produced in Ontario and Quebec. Winter rye can be grown anywhere in the country, but 89% is produced on the prairies. Winter wheat production is limited to southern Ontario and southern Alberta. Over 75% of the spring wheat crop is made into bread flour. Smaller quantities of spring or durum wheat goes to the manufacture of pasta. Winter wheat is used extensively for cake and pastry flour. The malting and brewing industries processes about 20% of the barley crop. Oats are grown primarily as livestock feed, but about 10% is used in food products such as oatmeal. Rye and corn grains are also fed to livestock, but a significant amount is used by the distilling industry.
Oilseed crops are grown primarily for the oil contained in the seeds, which is about 20-40% compared to wheat at 1-2%. The major world sources of edible seed oils are soybeans, sunflowers, rapeseed, cotton, and peanuts. Seed oils from flax and castor beans are used for industrial purposes. Edible fats and oils are similar to animal fats; however, fats solidify at room temperature while oils remain liquid. Fats and oils are essential and comprise about 40% of the calories in the diet of the average Canadian. Vegetable oils are used as salad oils, or in a solidified form as margarine and shortening. During the last three decades, Canada has changed from a major importer to a net exporter of edible oils and oilseeds. Soybean, a legume oilseed was introduced into North America as a hay crop about 1800, and was not recognized as a valuable source of edible oil until 1900. After WW II, soybean production expanded rapidly. In processing, the seed is crushed and the oil extracted. The meal remaining is a high protein livestock and poultry feed. Soybeans are a warm season crop requiring a mean summer temperature of 21 degrees C, and a frost-free period of 120-150 days. Most of Canada's crop is grown in southern Ontario.
Vegetables are a herbaceous plant of which all or a part is eaten raw or cooked. They are a valuable source of protein, vitamins, minerals, trace elements, and fiber. They are also high in carbohydrates, which contribute to their unique taste. Vegetables are most prized when eaten shortly after harvest. In Canada about 53 species of vegetables are grown; one is a mushroom, the others are seed plants such as: corn, asparagus, onions, garlic, leeks, buckwheat, beets, brussel sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, turnip, radish, legumes, carrots, parsnips, celery, tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers, squash, melons, cucumber, and lettuce. Good soil is beneficial, but vegetable growers often use light sandy soil to get an early start on the season. These crops recover less efficiently from droughts, so irrigation may be necessary during dry spells. Potatoes are the most widely cultivated vegetable in Canada. Ontario ranks first in vegetable production, both in yield and area; Quebec comes second, followed by British Columbia, the prairies, and finally the Atlantic provinces.
Most of the fruit species cultivated in Canada belongs to the rose family. the most important and common being apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, plums, cherries, apricots, strawberries, raspberries, cranberries, and blueberries. Other major cultivated fruit species are currants, gooseberries, and grapes. Each fruit species has many varieties developed for various characteristics, for example, in Canada adaptation to a specific climatic factor such as cold winters is important. Breeding and selection programs give priority to these requirements. Fruit cultivation is an important part of the agriculture and food distribution sectors of the economy. More than 40% of all foods consumed in Canada are fresh and processed fruits and vegetables. About 30 major fruit and vegetable crops are grown with an annual value of about $850 million. About 37% of this figure is for fruit. Fruit growing is restricted to areas where the temperatures do not go much below -20C. Fruit growing occurs in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, southwestern Quebec and Ontario, and British Columbia.
The mushroom cultivated on a large scale in Canada is the Agaricus bisporus that is seen in every supermarket in the country. The most commonly grown strains have white caps, and less frequent strains are cream or brown. Agaricus, first cultivated in France in the 17th century was grown by E. Cauchois in 1877 in the province of Quebec. Mushrooms are the most valuable of Canadian vegetables crops. Production of Agaricus is about 52,000 tonnes or $165 million. Ontario produces about half of the national mushroom crop, British Columbia produces about 27%, and the remainder is made up of production from Quebec, Alberta, the Maritimes, and Manitoba. On a small scale, two edible mushrooms are cultivated commercially on wood, Lentinus edodes, known by its Japanese name, Shiitake, in Ontario and British Columbia, and pleurotus ostreatus, known as the oyster mushroom in Ontario and experimentally in Quebec.
Vetch crops are members of the legume family and produce good quality hay. About 150 species are widely distributed worldwide. Early immigrants introduced most vetches originated in the Mediterranean region and some species into Canada. Three species of vetch crops grow in Canada: hairy vetch, Hungarian vetch, and common vetch. They occur commonly in pastureland and uncultivated fields in moist temperate areas of the country. When planted early in June, vetches produce a hay crop in the fall. Other than cheap animal feed, vetch is of little or no economic importance and commercial value, however, historically, vetches have been used as emergency forage crops.