From the earliest days of settlement, agriculture has been one of Manitoba's most important industries and sources of income and employment. The Selkirk settlers from Scotland established the first major farming operations in 1812, and agriculture became firmly established as the Red River Settlement developed. Most of the pioneers who flocked to Manitoba between 1870 and 1900 were farmers or became farmers, and by 1900 they had developed the bulk of prime agricultural land in the province. Total land farmed in 1996 was 19.1 million acres.
Wheat continues to be the most important Manitoba crop, accounting for more than 40% of crop production value, followed by canola and flaxseed. Other major crops are barley, oats and rye. Despite the dominance of grain production, agriculture in Manitoba is more diversified than in other Prairie Provinces. Manitoba dominates Canadian production of flaxseed, sunflower seeds, buckwheat and field peas. In 1996, the estimated total value of agricultural production was $2.7 billion. Crop production was valued at $1.6 billion and livestock, $1.1 billion.
Manufacturing is an important sector of the Manitoba economy in its contribution to provincial production and in number of jobs generated. Over 1500 establishments are engaged in manufacturing. In 1996, they employed 61,700 people and produced goods valued at approximately $9.08 billion.
Although Selkirk settlers in the early 19th century supplied some of their needs through "fledgling" factories, the first large scale manufacturing operations in Manitoba developed around 1900, as meat packing plants, clothing factories, lumber mills, metal-working and machine shops were built, chiefly in Winnipeg, to supply demand from all over Western Canada. Today manufacturing in Manitoba is widely diversified. The most important industries are food, machinery, primary metal and metal fabricating, transportation equipment and clothing, which together produce about 2/3 of all manufacturing output and employment in Manitoba.
Almost 50.8% (33,075,198 ha.) of Manitoba's total area is officially classified as non-productive forestland. Fifteen areas, containing 21,995 square kilometres are set aside as publicly owned provincial forest, specifically for the production of forest products. The most common tree species, in order of present volume are black spruce, trembling aspen, jack pine, white spruce, balsam poplar and white birch. Balsam fir, tamarack larch, eastern cedar, bur oak, white elm, basswood, cottonwood, Manitoba maple, red pine and white pine are found predominantly in southern Manitoba. The province operates a provincial nursery at Hadashville as part of its program to improve seedling production and reforestation.
The forest industry directly employed approximately 8,700 people in 1996, harvesting a total of 2.15 million cubic metres of wood, with pulpwood, sawlogs and oriented strand board wood (OSB) providing more than 95% of end use. Paper, OSB and sawmilling are the primary wood industries. Secondary industries range from door manufacturing to asphalt roofing and bags.
Manitoba 1996 mineral production was valued at an estimated $1.02 billion. Metals accounted for just over 82% of the total value of mineral production followed by industrial minerals (7%) and petroleum (11%). Metals found in Manitoba include nickel, copper, zinc, gold, cadmium and silver. Industrial minerals quarried in Manitoba include a wide variety of raw materials for the construction industry, including silica sand, limestone, granite, stoneware, clay, bentonite, dolomite and peat moss.
Despite Manitoba's prairie reputation, freshwater fisheries play an important role in the province's economy. Approximately 160,000 licensed anglers annually spend over $75 million on recreational fishing in pursuit of walleye, pike, perch, catfish, trout, bass and a number of other species. In 1996, commercial fishers harvested 12.5 million kgs of walleye, sauger, whitefish and other species that generated $32 million to the provincial economy through sales to international markets by the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation.